PSU Students Reflect on Divestment Training for NW


Visiting Students Bryce and Maggie practice communication skills while a mock blockade stands witness. Photo: Divest Portland State.

Portland State University students hosted other student campaign leaders from Oregon, Washington, and Montana at the Divestment Student Network (DSN) Northwest Regional Training earlier this month. The trainings led by Becca Rast from, Dylan Armin from DSN, and Jess Grady-Benson and Lauren Ressler from Responsible Endowments Coalition(REC) followed up on the national trainings held in San Francisco earlier this fall.

We caught up with PSU student leaders Elyse Cogburn and Linda Hoppes of Divest Portland State to find out what drew them to be part of a growing movement of college and university  fossil fuel divestment campaigns.

How did you come to be involved with the fossil fuel divestment campaign?

[Elyse] By accident! Last spring I was invited to a pub crawl with a friend and the sustainability club she is a member of, Students Sustainability Leadership Council (SSLC).” I ended up talking to a couple of really passionate people about this term, “divestment.” I just politely nodded and asked few questions. The second I walked into my apartment, I went to my laptop and read articles from Harvard, Reed, and Bill McKibben and didn’t move for five solid hours. I starting work on the campaign this fall after returning from an internship in the North Cascades and haven’t looked back since. After attending the training, I’ve been excited and ready to really kick-off our campaign.

[Linda] I was approached two years ago by Winston Friedman [a student at Southern Oregon University]. We spoke about divestment in general and then about divestment from fossil fuels specifically. He was extremely passionate and explained how important this would be for our future and how it would be good for our colleges to think about the future of their students. I honestly was only beginning my undergrad and was unsure of how to begin the campaign and felt I needed to be further educated on the subject.

The idea escaped me for a time as I earned my undergrad and was learning important facts on the destruction of our ecosystems, the extreme suffering of our environment and how the future looks bleak for the next seven generations and if we continue to support the corporations and continue to live beyond the capacity of our Earth we will all eventually suffer the consequences. The people who are currently suffering are people who use the least amount of resources, how is this right?

What other ways are you involved in your community? Do you see overlaps with your divestment work?

[Elyse] I am incorporating my divestment campaign work into my position as Sustainability Affairs Director with Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU). Within ASPSU, I am able to create awareness in the student body at Portland State and in other students around the nation. I also volunteer with the conservation organization Sierra Club, which is currently working on a clean energy solutions campaign.

You made time for a whole weekend (during school!) to attend the training. Tell me about something that really stuck with you.

[Elyse] I think the best part of the training was getting to know so many passionate, intelligent, leaders from around the Pacific Northwest. It was exciting to meet, and hear from, other schools’ campaigns, and strengthen each other’s work. I have been to a few leadership trainings and this was by far my favorite. Besides the fabulous people I met, learning the concept of base building within a campaign was really helpful and great. Let me tell you, it’s all about that base, that base.

[Linda] None of us are alone in this. there are many folks all across the northwest that are working on campaigns, which in my opinion means many people care and that is important to remember– that alone can sustain oneself.

Being a student takes a lot of energy. How do you find time to participate in the campaign?

[Elyse] Two words: self care. I make sure to take the time to take a break and just be. I meditate often by swimming laps as often as I am able. It also helps to be really passionate about your work. I love what I am doing. This incredible movement is fighting towards bettering our world environmentally, socially, and economically. We aren’t just thinking in the now, we are thinking about our future and those of generations to come. Loving what you do makes it really easy to find the time.

[Linda] I have several motivating factors for working on the Divest PSU campaign; to divest from fossil fuels is only one step; not the only one, but it is a step in the right direction. To win we have to be united. This is challenging, but it will be rewarding; I am learning many new skills and I am connecting with people working on this campaign. In addition, I really believe, “We Do Not Inherit the Earth from Our Ancestors; We Borrow It from Our Children”, I have nieces and nephews that I love dearly and I want them to have a beautiful place to live and be happy in.

How do I find energy to attend graduate school fulltime, be a senator on the Student Government, be a support for my family, and help with the Divest PSU campaign? Well, I drink lots of green tea and don’t sleep much, but also I try to find ways to sustain myself like reminding myself to have hope.

  • Maya Jarrad