Dores Divest hosts Earth Day ‘oil spill’ demonstration in front of Library Lawn

Student volunteers poured a mock oil concoction on fellow students to symbolize the university’s investment in fossil fuels and make a stance for divestment.

people+sit+in+front+of+the+Vanderbilt+statue+holding+signs+that+say+%22Our+Future+Not+For+Sale%22+wearing+white+body+suits+and+having+mock+oil+poured+on+them+by+people+in+black+clothing

Alex Venero

Student volunteers have “oil” poured on them as part of Divest Dore’s “Earth Day Oil Spill.” (Hustler Multimedia/Alex Venero)

Members of Dores Divest, student volunteers and around 40 student spectators gathered around the Harold Stirling Vanderbilt statue in front of Library lawn at 1:30 p.m. CDT for an “Earth Day Oil Spill” demonstration. A few students poured canisters of “oil” on fellow students sitting on a tarp at the base of the statue, while others stood behind the tarp with posters reading “Admin U Up” and “Divest Fossil Fuels.”

Four students who volunteered to be covered with oil were dressed in large, white bodysuits, representing “students whose future will be affected by climate change,” per Miguel Moravec, first-year Ph.D. student and member of Dores Dives. They sat on a white tarp holding signs that read, from left to right, “Our Future,” “Not,” “For,” “Sale.” Other student volunteers who poured the oil were dressed in black. Moravec said that they represented “the Vandy admin continuing to do nothing while we basically beg for a meeting.” 

Hannah Tate, a senior and member of Dores Divest, stated that the “oil” poured on students was actually a mixture of molasses, maple syrup, corn starch and vegetable oil. Moravec also said that the concoction was “totally vegan, very environmentally friendly.”

“We were experimenting with a lot of stuff to try and make it look as realistic as possible,” Tate said. 

The demonstration took place against the backdrop of a mural of the earth that featured the phrases “Protect Our Planet” and “Divest Fossil Fuels.” Prior to the “oil spill” a recording of Al Gore’s “On Why Harvard Should Divest from Fossil Fuels” speech played. 

To open the demonstration, Moravec read the organization’s fossil fuel divestment petition, which has accumulated approximately 1,100 students, per Moravec. 

Climate change is an existential threat to society and demands immediate and transformative actions by individuals, governments, and institutions such as Vanderbilt University,” he said. “We hope you will join us in accelerating Vanderbilt’s effort to stand on the right side of this historic environment, socioeconomic and racial justice issue.”   

Before having oil spilled on them, each demonstrator spoke as to why they support divestment from fossil fuels.

“Fossil fuel industries and global warming are already coming for people across Africa and across Latin America who are fleeing their homes. It’s coming for Black communities in Philadelphia, in Detroit and Latino communities in Los Angeles and San Francisco,” first-year Chandler Quaile said. “They’re [the industries] going to kill the most marginalized people before they come for someone like me. Vanderbilt, you are supporting white supremacy in your investments.”

Ruth Aklilu, a first-year, also spoke about how the university’s lack of fossil fuel divestment affects her education.

“What’s the point of having an education and a job if my future no longer exists?” she said.

Moravec concluded the demonstration at 1:57 p.m. CDT by calling upon Vanderbilt administration to take action and divest from fossil fuels.

“What else do we have to do?” he said. “We are begging. Talk to us.” 

Moravec emphasized that Dores Divest did not vandalize campus during the demonstration and abided by Vanderbilt’s COVID-19 guidelines. He also said they followed the rules imposed upon them by Vanderbilt administration for their Feb. 23 protest in front of Kirkland Hall. 

“We did this really cleanly—it’s [the area] is cleaner than it was before,” he said. “We followed the exact same COVID social-distancing guidelines that we did on the February 23rd protest.” 

Dean of Students Mark Bandas said in a statement to The Hustler he supports students’ right to have to have their voices heard. 

“The university is committed to being a safe space where scholars and students exchange ideas, challenge viewpoints and learn from one another,” Bandas said. 

In addition to this demonstration, Earth Day programs that have been occurring all day, such as the Students Promoting Environmental Awareness (SPEAR) ice-cream handout as well as the environmental law panel happening this evening. 

Hannah Bruns, student body president-elect, gave a statement on Earth Day to conclude the event after the demonstration.

“Earth Day is not just about planting trees; it’s about holding authority figures accountable and making sure that we are pushing for fossil fuel divestment. It means listening to people in your community who are affected by environmental racism, that means listening to your Indigenous leaders, listening to Black people who live next to hazardous waste,” Bruns said. “At the end of the day, it’s a systematic problem that needs a systematic solution that’s going to come from young people like us.”