Campus sustainability activists optimistic about USC’s fossil fuel divestment

The divestment has been a priority of environmental groups for years.

Following USC’s announcement that it will divest from the fossil fuel industry over the next several years, members of environmental student organizations are pleased to see their efforts provoke action from the administration.

USC has taken significant steps under President Carol Folt’s leadership to become more environmentally friendly, including releasing a master plan to guide the university’s sustainability efforts until 2028, as well as reinstating the Public Transit Subsidy Program.

This most recent announcement from the USC Board of Trustees Investment Committee promises to liquidate fossil fuel investments over the next five years. USC also plans to create an Advisory Committee on investment responsibility to address ethical and social concerns regarding the school’s investment strategies.

Members of the Environmental Student Assembly at USC have been engaged with the university with hopes to encourage sustainability initiatives. The assembly’s co-director Jackson Fitzgerald said he appreciates the university taking action to address its investments.

“It feels really exciting, especially as other schools across the country have been successfully getting their administrations to divest. It’s always felt kind of disappointing that USC was not taking that step when so many of our peer institutions did it so long ago,” Fitzgerald said. “It seems like USC is finally taking some of these issues more seriously than they have before.”

DivestSC is another student organization that has pushed for the reallocation of USC’s investments in the fossil fuel industry. Co-founder and co-chair Nathaniel Hyman shared Fitzgerald’s enthusiasm about the recent announcement, also hoping that USC’s actions will push other universities to follow suit.

“The significance of it comes in the form of a public statement that can compel other universities and other funds to do the same, which can move hundreds of millions [of dollars] out of fossil fuel stocks,” he said.

Hyman said he especially sees the creation of the Advisory Committee as a win and has faith that USC will carry out its sustainability mission.

“The advisory council is going to serve as a mechanism through which we can ensure that we uphold the promises made,” he said. “Yes, it’s important that we announce that we divest, but we have to actually do it. We have to do it as soon as possible.”

DivestSC co-founder and USC alumna Tianna Shaw-Wakeman shared Hyman’s enthusiasm about the Advisory Committee and said it is a step toward collaboration between students, staff and faculty with the goal of sustainability.

“I was really happy to see that it wasn’t just an announcement for a fossil fuel-free endowment, but it was also an announcement for the Advisory Committee,” she said.

Shaw-Wakeman said she did not see divestment from fossil fuels as a possibility for USC during her freshman year. At the time, she said she thought, “We can’t even get USC to handle its trash responsibly. There’s no way we’re going to get USC to handle its money responsibly.”

However, Shaw-Wakeman said that by 2019, she could see how much more engaged students were and that more people on campus were excited about sustainability. For a long time, she said she did not see sustainability as a unified effort at USC, but that she is now excited to see a broader plan and an overall “push in the same direction to make USC a leader in sustainability.”

Shaw-Wakeman and Hyman both said they want to see USC’s funds reinvested into clean technology and renewable energy.

Going forward, Hyman said he hopes USC will build sustainability education into its undergraduate curriculum, as well as aim for net zero carbon by 2028 and continue to provide transit subsidies.