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If you’re like me, you’re looking for some positive news as the government shutdown and stalemate continues to affect millions of Americans. Let me help – check out the inspiring students of the University of North Carolina Beyond Coal team.

Recently, after two years of pressure, the UNC Board of Trustees’ Finance and Infrastructure Committee agreed to meet with these hard-working students to discuss moving the school’s $2.1 billion endowment out of the coal industry and into clean energy (that’s them at the meeting above).

By the time October 25th arrived, the buzz around this meeting had reached a peak online, in the media and on campus. That day’s edition of the on campus newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, featured UNC Beyond Coal in three separate places.
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And at a rally before the meeting organized by UNC Beyond Coal and other student organizations, thanks to live tweeting and facebook posts all morning by UNC Beyond Coal members, the Mayor of Carrboro (which borders Chapel Hill) showed up and spoke about the importance of coal divestment.

During the Finance and Infrastructure committee meeting, the board members said they were open to further discussions about divestment. “We can be committed with the University to not table this and continue the discussion,” said Steve Lerner, chair of the Finance and Infrastructure committee.

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UNC students6That’s a big move for the board, which had for two years refused to meet with students about this issue. Some members of the Board have seen and heard from UNC Beyond Coal Students have held rallies and meetings calling for the campus to move beyond coal and divest, and a remarkable 77 percent of the student body voted in favor of coal divestment at the end of last year.

“This meeting marks a pivotal moment for our campaign and for the University,” said Jasmine Ruddy, grassroots coordinator of the Sierra Student Coalition’s UNC Beyond Coal campaign. “The Board is finally considering student voices and laying the groundwork for the University to become a leader in smart investments that create a clean, safe future for me and my fellow graduates.”

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The continued tenacity and strategic organizing of UNC Beyond Coal is an inspiration – UNC-Chapel Hill was one of the first colleges to launch the divestment movement in 2011 after student-led organizing secured a retirement date for the on campus coal boiler.  Now there are more than 300 campuses calling for divestment nationwide, and students aren’t waiting around to be led:

“This movement is happening whether UNC wants it or not,” said UNC student Jasmine Ruddy. “The question is not ‘if,’ but ‘when’ do we want to be a leader.”

Young people like those at UNC are at the forefront of ensuring campuses and communities are sustainable, reducing our carbon footprint, and divesting from fossil fuels. On October 18 – 21, thousands of young people from all across the country, will join together at the annual Power Shift conference to call on campuses, communities, elected officials and corporations to take action on climate. Click here for more information on Power Shift.
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With student support, the Administration at UNC Chapel Hill has made tremendous strides on the issue of coal on campus, and I look forward to UNC leading yet again for schools in the south and state institutions nationwide by divesting from coal.