Student Leadership for Divestment: Q&A with Michelle Bates

Student Leadership for Divestment: Q&A with Michelle Bates

Student Sustainability Leadership Award Winner


GPSEN:  We are proud to recognize you with GPSEN’s Student Sustainability Leadership Award this year. This honor highlights your work, as a student at Portland State University, in calling for divestment from fossil fuels by Portland area educational institutions. What are some of your biggest challenges, opportunities, and breakthroughs in these efforts? 

MICHELLE:  Some of the biggest challenges have been trying to get a hold of the PSU endowment.  To have a better understanding of what fossil fuel organizations that we need to divest from to use as an asset in sustainability. One of the most significant opportunities of breakthroughs is that I have been working with the ASPSU sustainability affairs committee to pass a resolution in support of divestment from fossil fuels and to make the endowment a public easily accessed document.


GPSEN: Have there been insights from this work, guided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that you want to share with educational institutions and other sectors in our community?

MICHELLE:  Yes, there are many insights on why you should divest from fossil fuels being social-political or environmentally focused arguments. We can see all around us that fossil fuels are becoming a stranded asset that are less and less profitable for the people interested in stable investments. In addition, the GPSEN College Network made this project our youth challenge project for 2020 based on Sustainability Development Goals 11.B, 11.6, 12 C 12.2, 12.7, and 12.8, which are more focused on how investments in these types of organizations are not promoting sustainable management and use of capital which is improving polluted air quality inequities in health and environmental degradation.


GPSEN:  What is your outlook for progress toward local as well as global goals, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond? 

MICHELLE: I try to remain hopeful, and hopefully, the Covid-19 pandemic will be a wake-up call to all the other environmental, social and economic injustices that are happening and that we can move forward all together in building a better future altogether.


GPSEN:  In what ways do you see education as most integral to achieving sustainability? And what are the most important ways that your work aligns with GPSEN’s goals of educating for a sustainable future? 

MICHELLE:  As a person that has been in school a good portion of my life, I understand why education is so vitally important to increase the integration to achieve sustainability throughout our planet. How my work aligns with this is by sharing my knowledge that I’ve gained throughout my education on these topics and findings to show that these projects are critical to advocate for more organizations to take the next step towards divestment from fossil fuels and to understand why it’s so vitally important.


GPSEN:  With GPSEN’s Sustainability Symposium theme of  “A Call For Action”, as well as Earth Day’s 50th anniversary, what actions — by institutions and by individuals — do you think are most urgently needed during this time of crisis? How do you envision your work making a direct difference for the future of greater Portland, as well as for the planet?

MICHELLE:  These are genuinely unprecedented times and [an opportunity] for everybody to take a deep breath and make sure that their mental and physical health is OK and then to work together on making the next collective step on building a better future together. How my work fits into this is to try creating an opportunity through various projects and advocacy [to suggest] changes in policy and programs to work towards a small step towards a better future.