Carrying banners and singing along to protest songs, around 100 students, faculty and community members gathered on the Main Green Friday in support of Sunrise Brown’s DIRE campaign, which calls for the University to dissociate from the fossil fuel industry and increase its investment in the Providence community.
The group rallied on the steps of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center before marching to University Hall and delivering a copy of Sunrise Brown’s “Dissociate Now” report to University administrators. The report investigates Brown’s ties to “fossil fuel-affiliated and climate disinformation-affiliated organizations” and presents recommendations for the University’s dissociation from the industry.
“The University received the report on Friday, and our next step will be to review it in full,” wrote University Spokesperson Brian Clark in an email to The Herald.
“We know this isn't easy,” Isaac Slevin ’25, a Sunrise Brown organizer, told the crowd in his speech at the rally. “But we know that (this) is what it takes. … If Brown wants to live up to its values of sustainability and academic freedom … then we have to show out for” this campaign.
Sunrise Brown’s DIRE campaign calls for the University to cut all financial and social ties to the fossil fuel industry by refusing research funding, grants and gifts from related organizations, creating a fossil fuel-free retirement fund option for faculty and banning fossil fuel companies from hosting recruitment events on campus, Ethan Drake ’24, one of the Dissociate Now report’s co-authors, previously told The Herald.
Published last Monday, the report found that the University received $20,511,567 in contributions from non-profit organizations affiliated with fossil fuel companies and climate disinformation donors between 2003 and 2019. The report also found five instances in which Brown-affiliated authors accepted funding “from at least one of the top 50 companies” responsible for total fossil fuel production as listed by the Urgewald Global Oil and Gas Exit List or the Global Coal Exit List.
Baylor Fox-Kemper, professor of earth, environmental and planetary sciences, is one of the five Brown-affiliated researchers who conducted research using fossil fuel-affiliated funding. At the rally, he shared how he accepted a research grant from British Petroleum in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, after which the company committed to investing in research on the soil spills’ impacts.
“I will not do that again,” Fox-Kemper said at the rally. “I will not take fossil fuel money.”
Fox-Kemper added that the fossil fuel industry funds research that promotes strategies like carbon capture and carbon storage, which have previously been used to justify more oil and gas projects, “to keep the existing money in the pockets of the same companies for longer.”
“We deserve a better future, we deserve better opportunities and we deserve better than the fossil fuel industry,” said Bella Garo ’24, a Sunrise Brown organizer. “It is time to dissociate and it is time to dissociate right now.”
In March 2020, the University announced that it was halting investment of the endowment in fossil fuel extraction companies, but Sunrise Brown is calling for full dissociation. Their push follows Princeton’s announcement last year that it would dissociate from 90 companies active in the thermal coal or tar sands segments of the fossil fuel industry.
Fiona Mathews ’26, a member of Sunrise Brown, said that she attended the rally to encourage the University to commit to further separation from the fossil fuel industry. “It's time for us to call for more action.”
Speakers at the rally also advocated for the University to increase its investments in the local community.
“Brown isn't being a good neighbor. We need to demand that Brown pays more to the city of Providence,” said Carina Sandoval ’23, a co-founder of Students for Education Equity. “How can we actively work to pay off our debt to the community and be a better community member? The answer starts with reinvesting in Providence and increasing our voluntary payments.”
As a non-profit, the University does not pay property taxes on its educational buildings but does on its commercial holdings. A report from the Providence Finance Department and the Office of then-Mayor Jorge Elorza last year found that the University would pay almost $50 million annually if it paid full taxes on all of its properties, which are valued at over $1.3 billion.
Sunrise Brown’s DIRE campaign calls for the University to pay more in voluntary payments to the city. The University is expected to pay around $4.5 million this fiscal year through two agreements with the city. Both of these agreements are expiring in June of this year.
“I'm here because I care deeply about Brown’s relationship with the city of Providence,” said Janek Schaller ’24, who attended the rally. “The incredible ambition and talent of (the University’s) student body has to be put to excellent use and our administration has to … realize a much more sustainable and equitable future for the city of Providence.”
“It’s really exciting to (have seen) such high turnout for the rally,” Slevin wrote in a message to The Herald. “We’re confident this is the start of a movement.”
Additional reporting by Dana Richie.
Sam Levine is a University News editor from Brooklyn, New York overseeing the staff and student labor and on-campus activism beats. He is a junior concentrating in International and Public Affairs.