Samantha Gonsalves-Wetherell, a senior at the University of Arizona, has spent years urging university officials to take climate change seriously. As a leader of UArizona Divest, she and her classmates have been pushing the university toward three goals: to divest from fossil fuels by 2029; commit to no further investments in fossil fuels; and to implement socially responsible investing goals.

“It’s hard to both combat the climate crisis and also fund it,” said Gonsalves-Wetherell. She has met with university officials to ask them what stocks the university has invested in and how much revenue oil and gas investments bring in.

But until now, she had no idea that the university, like more than a dozen other land-grant universities created through the Morrill Act, earned millions more through another route: nearly 700,000 acres of land taken from Indigenous nations that is set aside for oil, gas and mineral leases.

A Grist investigation published earlier this week reported that 14 universities — including the University of Arizona — receive millions in annual income from more than 8 million acres of surface and subsurface land taken from 123 Native nations. Over the past five years, these properties have generated more than $2.2 billion. Nearly a fourth of the trust lands are dedicated to fossil fuels or mineral mining including coal mining.

University activists who have been lobbying their universities to pull their endowments out of fossil fuels say Grist’s findings are in line with what they’ve come to expect from their schools: a willingness to overlook their complicity in climate change and societal injustice.

When Claire Sullivan, a senior at Colorado State University, learned of Grist’s findings, she thought of the land acknowledgement she’s seen on every syllabus and plastered on many walls all over campus.

According to Sullivan, CSU says all of its fossil fuel investments are indirect, but it hasn’t made any promises to avoid direct investments or phase out any existing ones, despite the disproportionate harm that climate change is wreaking on Native peoples. Sullivan’s exasperation at the university’s intractable stance is topped only by her awe at what she describes as their hypocrisy.

“It’s just crazy that you could be making this commitment outwardly and just be doing the opposite in practice,” she said.

Not every divestment campaign has been so frustrating. Many university activists, such as at Harvard and Yale, have seen success. Gracelyn McClure is a senior and environmental sciences major at the University of Minnesota. She was only a sophomore when school officials decided to withdraw its investments from fossil fuels by 2028. It was a huge victory, but McClure said the group’s advocacy work isn’t over.

Read the full article about campus divestment by Anita Hofschneider at Grist.