'Your Fees Are Funding Fossil Fuels'

Welcome to St Hilda’s College, Oxford.

It’s known for its chilled out vibe and not being your stereotypically grand and stuffy Oxford college (even if we do have our own punts). It’s a pretty nice place to be a student, in spite of the weekly essay crises.

I’ve just finished my second year at Hilda’s and, during this year, was the ‘JCR Environment & Ethics Officer’ - a title that makes an actually quite exciting job sound pretty boring - but it’s a role which gives me a surprisingly significant amount of power in the college in representing the student body on environment or ethical issues.

This year, alongside a group of 10 keen, green enthusiasts, I have been running a campaign to get the college to divest from fossil fuels and encourage investment in renewable energy sources.

St Hilda’s was the last Oxford College to go co-ed after many years as a strong all-female hub in an Oxford that was pretty much all-male for the majority of its 800 year history. It therefore has a reputation and ethos that is forward-thinking and progressive, citing its motto as ‘Excellence and Equality’. However, they hold reservations about disturbing their current comfortable investment portfolio.

Divestment is a gnarly issue, and while sitting tight may seem sensible from a financial point of view, where is the sense in being fully aware that your - and your students’ - money is going into funding the fossil fuel producers and users that are causing irreversible damage to our planet and futures?

So we decided to bring it up.

We sat through numerous meetings, were bombarded by financial jargon I suspect was intentionally used to confuse us, and had some ‘interesting’ conversations with a certain member of staff who declared that fossil fuels are OK because they are legal (both tobacco and arms are legal but St Hilda’s is actively not invested in them, we gently reminded him). He simply didn’t see any value in the symbolic gesture that a statement of divestment  from an Oxford college would add to the snowballing voice that the movement is gaining - a voice that will ultimately cause vital changes in government policy about the use and production of fossil fuels.

We had an official launch night in January, and since then it’s been baby steps, gradually convincing people that we have a serious, legitimate and well-thought-out claim to be making.

We also had a very exciting visit from Alan Rusbridger, former editor of the Guardian and spearhead of their extremely successful ‘Keep it in the Ground’ campaign who spoke about the need for urgent action and the imperative for change.

Come the autumn, we will be entering into big discussions with the Governing Body of the college, and are hopeful for at least some positive outcomes, even if we have had to compromise a little on how urgently or directly the college will act. Many tutors are concerned about climate change - and have been responsive to our conversations with them so it’s just a question of how much and how soon.

So, fingers crossed the college will weigh its values higher than any small (though likely negligible) financial risk. Watch this space. (Or at least our Facebook and Twitter pages).