Students press Chico State University to divest from fossil fuels, 2013-2014

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
The Chico State divestment campaign occurred during a global divestment movement from fossil fuel industries. In September 2015, recorded that 430 institutions and 2040 individuals in 43 different countries had committed to divesting $2.6 trillion collectively from fossil fuel industries.
December 11
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Chico, California
Location Description: 
Chico State Univerisity, in Chico, California
The goal of the Chico State University divestment campaign was to pressure the Chico State University Foundation (an organization that managed endowment and gifts to Chico State) to divest the university funds from direct and non-direct investments in the top 200 fossil fuel companies. This included divesting stocks that were directly invested in the top 200 fossil fuel companies (direct investment) as well as stocks that were invested in mutual funds with the top 200 fossil fuel companies(non-direct). The top 200 fossil fuel companies were ranked by their sizes of reserves.

In 2013, about ninety-seven percent of the publishing climate scientists agreed that climate change was occurring, and it was due to human activities. If people continued at the same rate of carbon dioxide emission, they risked permanently changing the planet’s climate and triggering irreversible increases in temperature. If the planet was to remain with levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide deemed safe by climate experts, four-fifths of known fossil fuel reserves could not be used and needed to be left in the ground. Divestment was a method of taking away financial support in the form of stocks, bonds, and investment funds, specifically from companies responsible for fossil fuel extraction. Student activists hoped to socially stigmatize fossil fuels extraction, and pressure industries and the public towards forms of renewable energy. In 2013, the fossil fuel divestment movement had spread to over 300 campuses and by 2015, 430 institutions across 43 countries with assets of $2.6 trillion had committed to divest from fossil fuels.

As part of this international movement, Chico State University students urged their university to divest its endowment and mutual funds from the top 200 fossil fuel industries companies, ranked by their size of reserves. At the time, other California universities, such as San Francisco State and UC Berkeley, had decided to take a stand against the investments of university funds in fossil fuel industries and were urging divestment.

Students in the Environmental Affairs Council of the Associated Students group (the student government group) at Chico State began the campaign. The Associated Students (A.S.) gave $271,000 in endowment and gifts to the University Foundation of Chico State. The University Foundation was responsible for managing university endowment and monetary gifts to the university. According to the student newspaper, “The Orion,” the University Foundation had invested A.S. funds in Exxon-Mobil and ConocoPhillips. Both of which at the time were among the top 10 fossil fuel companies in the world. Chico State prided itself as a “green school” and Princeton Review recognized it as one of 22 schools that earned the highest score possible in their Green Honor Role. As a school outwardly committed to green living and sustainability, the Environmental Affairs Council wanted the university’s internal affairs and investments to match university claims of valuing sustainable living.

In September 2013, the Environmental Affairs Council within the A.S. presented a divestment proposal to the Chico State Board of Directors of the University Foundation that asked them to divest over a period of 7 years the $271,000 they had donated from the top 200 fossil fuel industries. Chico State’s vice president for business and finance, Lori Hoffman, gave them feedback on the proposal. She explained that pulling investments from these companies would not prevent other companies from buying the fossil fuel stocks that Chico State abandoned, and predicted that investment return would likely decrease from divesting. She advised taking the Associated Student’s money out of the University Endowment to control their investments. However, the Environmental Affairs Council did not want to split from the university’s funds and instead hoped to pressure the foundation to divest all of the university's funds as well as the Associated Student’s portion of the endowment and monetary gifts.

The following semester, January 2014, students in a course called “Environmental Thought in Action” began working with the Associated Students to urge the university to divest. Each year, the course designed an advisory measure on the spring ballot for the elections for Associated Students, to get student feedback and support for issues surrounding sustainability practices on campus. There was no guarantee that the the university would take any action from the results of the advisory, but the students believed it would help to educate the university students and faculty about the fossil fuel companies in which Chico State was invested and about the option of divesting. That year, the A.S. designed the ballot to gauge the amount of student support for the university to divest fossil fuel holdings (rather than just the Associated Students funds), and to increase communication and education about fossil fuels. They hoped to put pressure on the University to divest. The initiative required 800 signatures to put it on the ballot. Students succeeded in obtaining the necessary petition signatures, and divestment was placed on the ballot.

Following the petitioning drive, students campaigned to raise awareness of divestment from February through April, because the election for the student advisory measure was to occur 15 to 17 of April. Students created a Facebook page and a Twitter account called “Divest Chico State” in the beginning of February 2014 to communicate events, past actions, and articles related to divestment to students and other interested parties. Articles about other past and current divestment campaigns were also posted on the page.

Throughout March, students in Environmental Thought and Action, students in the Environmental A.S. groups, and those in support of divestment posted small paper and larger (about the size of 2 square feet) orange square around campus. They gave out a free burger to whoever could guess the closest to the number of orange squares that were posted on 4 March. These students handed out felt orange squares as a symbol of support for the divestment campaign. The students displayed orange squares as a symbol of support and to spread awareness for the divestment movement. There were three main waves of orange square distribution and posting across campus that occurred from the beginning of the semester to the elections in mid April. Framed as a game, the students used the orange square to create a contest for students to win free food by taking pictures of themselves with orange squares around campus and “Tweeting” them on the social media platform Twitter. They played the game in March and again on election day 17 April.

Students campaigned heavily on 1 April, “April Fool’s Day,” with a symbolic human reenactment of an oil spill. Students from the “Environmental Thought in Action” course led by professor Mark Stemen, theatrically re-enacted an oil spill on campus by dressing up in black and carrying a black tarp to raise awareness about the university’s profit off of oil companies, and the dangerous effects of real oil spills. Students held and posted a satirical newspaper cover about the college and oil investments.

In the beginning of April, the students created giant banners, placed giant orange squares around campus, and spelled “DIVEST” in giant letters on the side of Butte Hall, a student dorm, dorms to increase public awareness and support.

On 10 April 2014, students in Divest Chico State held a “Divest-Yes Party” with games and education on divestment. Students dressed up as large orange blocks and danced outside at the “Divest-Yes Party.” They also sponsored another contest using Twitter, prompting students to take pictures of themselves with orange squares around campus in order to gain a free meal, burger, and fries from a campus dining hall. One tweet assured entry into a drawing to win a free meal. The drawing occurred on 17 April, the last day of the divestment elections. Of the 23 percent of the student body who voted in the elections, 80 percent voted in favor of divestment. This vote signified the majority support of the students and allowed the Associated Students permission to re-submit a proposal for divestment to the Board of Directors of the University Foundation.

In an action on 13 April, Divest Chico State students placed large orange squares with “Vote 2 Divest” written on them around campus and near notable statues on campus. They unfurled large banners in the rose garden and posted flyers around campus.

Almost three weeks later, on 2 May, Divest Chico State invited students to participate in the “California Student Sustainability Coalition” Conference at UC Santa Barbara that emphasized the importance of building coalitions to enact change through workshops, panelists, and build connections to peers at other institutions.

Shortly after the conference, during its monthly meeting on 4 May, the California State Student Association, a statewide student group composed of officially recognized representatives from each California State University campus, voted to support divestment on all California State University campuses. All student governments in the California State University system and other C.S.U. Foundations also supported divestment. In May 2014, San Francisco State University Foundation decided to remove direct investments from coal and tar sand producing and refining companies, and in November, the Humboldt State University Foundation pledged to monitor and limit their mutual fund investing in fossil fuel companies.

As of 7 May, a faculty petition started by students in the course “Environmental Thought in Action” had gained 51 signatures from faculty in support of divestment. Students also called on support from alumni through the “Divest Chico State” Twitter account, asking them to write to the president. With evidence for support from students, faculty members, the C.S.U. Student Association, and other C.S.U. campuses making movements towards a sustainable future, student leaders gave a presentation to the Board of Directors of the University Foundation on 11 December 2014. Kaitlin Haley (the former Associated Students Commissioner of Environmental Affairs), Kevin Killion (an A.S. Sustainability education outreach committee member and student in the “Environmental Thought in Action” course), and Taylor Herron (the A.S. President), delivered the presentation to the Board. With a vote of 8 to 4 the Board voted in favor of divestment, making Chico State the first public university to completely divest from fossil fuels. The plan called for the removal of foundation investments from the top 200 public coal, oil, and gas companies within the next four years.

Research Notes
Anon. 2013. “Pulling Investments from Fossil Fuels Makes Sense.” The Orion. Retrieved November 23, 2015


Anon. 2014. “ University Ignores Students’ Voices .” The Orion. Retrieved November 23, 2015 (

Anon. 2014. “Divest Chico State.” Facebook. Retrieved November 23, 2015 (

Anon. n.d. “Commitments.” Fossil Free. Retrieved November 23, 2015


Anon. "Divest Fossil Fuels." Energy Action Coalition, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.(

Anon. n.d. “Divest Chico State.” Twitter . Retrieved November 23, 2015 (

Funes, Yessenia. 2014. “AS Vote Doesn’t Guarantee Divestment.” The Orion. Retrieved November 23, 2015 (

Funes, Yessenia. 2014. “Butte Hall Banners Call for Divestment.” The Orion. Retrieved November 23, 2015 (

Funes, Yessenia. 2014. “Divestment Gathers Faculty Support.” The Orion. Retrieved November 23, 2015 (

McCauley , Eric. 2014. “Student Activists Seek Oil Divestment.” The Orion. Retrieved November 23, 2015 (

Mcvicker, David. 2014. “Foundation Approves Resolution to Divest.” The Orion. Retrieved November 23, 2015 (

Murphy, Matt. 2014. “Divestment Vote Might Be Meaningless.” The Orion. Retrieved November 23, 2015 (

Murphy, Matt. 2014. “Divestment Vote Might Be Meaningless.” The Orion. Retrieved November 23, 2015 (

Shaftel, Holly, Randal Jackson, and Laura Tenembaum. 2015. “Scientific Consensus: Earth's Climate Is Warming.” Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. Retrieved November 23, 2015 (

Shaftel, Holly, Randall Jackson, and Laura Tenembaum. 2015. “Climate Change Causes: A Blanket around the Earth.” Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. Retrieved November 23, 2015 (

Stemen, Mark. 2014. “Students Should Keep Pushing for Divestment.” The Orion. Retrieved November 23, 2015 (

Tupolo , Jenice. 2015. “Zingg’s Convocation Focuses on Achievements, Upcoming Accreditation.” The Orion. Retrieved November 23, 2015 (

Zarate, Mozes. 2013. “AS Seeks to Divest from Big Oil.” The Orion. Retrieved November 23, 2015 (

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Rebecca Griest 30/11/2015