NAU fossil fuels protest ends in arrests

NAU fossil fuels protest ends in arrests

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Five NAU students were arrested Monday night  when they refused to leave a building they had occupied all day in a sit-in protest.

The students said they were attempting to pressure university President Rita Cheng into taking a stance on fossil fuel divestment.

Michaela Mujica-Steiner, Karina Gonsalez, Zane Holditch, Laura Blair and Megan Sissingh were led away peacefully in handcuffs when they refused to leave the building at its 9 p.m. closing time.

All five were cited for trespassing and released, according to Lt. Brad Mihalik with the NAU Police Department. 

"We decided to get arrested to show President Cheng we are serious about divestment and will persevere with our demands," Gonsalez and Mujica-Steiner wrote in a text message after they were released Monday night.

The students were among a group of between 40 and 60 people who occupied the lobby of NAU's Student and Academic Services building throughout the day on Monday, Gonsalez said.

The protest event was organized by the student group Fossil Free NAU, which has been seeking to secure a commitment from the university and the nonprofit NAU Foundation to abandon investments in the top 200 coal, oil and gas corporations.

The group has had discussions with Cheng as well as the NAU Foundation, said Gonsalez, a member of the group. The Foundation seemed open to creating a dialogue and a relationship but Cheng hasn't taken a stance on the issue, she said.  

As they rallied on campus and walked into the building Monday morning, students held posters painted with “Youth choose climate justice” and “Climate justice now." Gathered together, the group sang songs and talked about why they support fossil fuel divestment.

“We want clean investing, we want just investing,” Luna Thompson, a sophomore, said in a speech to the group. “Rita Cheng. Take a stand. Pick a side. Divest.”

There were 28 students who were still in the campus building Monday night when police showed up. All but the five who were arrested left when police told them the building was closing for the night. Before arresting the remaining students, Mihalik made clear what they were facing and said the department had been in touch with Cheng about the students' sit in. The university received noise complaints from others in the building and rerouted campus tours throughout the day to avoid the group, he said.

The students remained silent. Then, as they sat on the floor, waiting for more police to come, they began singing lyrics from the civil rights movement.

"Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom," they sang together.

Emery Cowan can be reached at (928) 556-2250 or


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