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The University Alumnus:
“Universities are very sensitive to how they are portrayed.”
Kyuwon Kim and two recent university graduates, Elysia Petrone and Yasmin Parodi, are attempting a unique method of pressuring universities to divest from fossil fuels. The three friends are asking Maclean’s Magazine, a current affairs publication that annually ranks Canadian universities, to add an “ethical investment” ranking to its report.
Green America/Martha van Gelder: How did you get involved with the divestment movement?
Kyuwon Kim: I met Elysia and Yasmin at a workshop in Toronto that was run by the Sierra Youth Coalition back in October. The three of us had a big interest in the divestment campaign because we came from different 350.org chapters, which inspired us to take action.
Green America/Martha: How did you get the idea to use the universities’ rankings as a way to encourage them to take action? It is such a unique approach!
Kim: At the end of each year, Maclean’s publish a universities issue in which it ranks Canadian universities based on class size, funding, reputation, student support, etc. Most Canadian high school students use it when they search for universities. I used it myself!
We noticed that there was nothing that mentioned ethical investment, so we started a petition asking Maclean’s to include information in its university rankings that reference the ethicality of their endowments.
Green America/Martha: How successful have you been so far?
Kim: We have been in talks with Maclean’s Magazine, and they have been going very positively. We’re very, very thankful that all these people have supported us.
Green America/Martha: Why do you think this ranking could influence universities?
Kim: A lot of universities are sensitive to how they rank in Maclean’s Magazine, and they have responded to their ranking in the magazine. Many universities will call the magazine and want to know how they can rank better the next year.
Green America/Martha: As an alumna, why do you feel moved to take action to change what your alma mater does with its endowment?
Kim: All three of us, Elysia, Yasmin and me, have studied the environment in some way or another. Universities are leading the way in terms of sustainability and leadership. [The fact that our university was invested in fossil fuels] disheartened us, and we thought it was hypocritical that these great institutions that are investing a lot in sustainability research yet they are investing in unethical activities and unsustainable industries.
Green America/Martha: What advice would you give to other alumni who want to get involved?
Kim: Pay attention to what your leverage points are. They differ by wherever you are in the world. But I believe it can be done. There's a huge amount of momentum, so right now is the time to jump in for sure.