Diermeier and the Giant Unicorn: Understanding Fossil Fuel Divestment

The fossil fuel divestment movement has taken Vanderbilt by storm. So what do these students want and why does it matter? Listen to the first episode in College Voices’ divestment series.


Cara Kim

Pictures from two DoresDivest protests and a digital recreation of the giant unicorn head (Photos courtesy Miguel Moravec and Abhinav Krishnan, design by Cara Kim)

By Abhinav Krishnan, Brynn Jones, Trent Griffith, and Nandika Chirala

As Vanderbilt’s Ninth Chancellor, Daniel Diermeier started his inaugural Founder’s Walk speech, student activists wearing orange beanies and carrying big white posters with big red letters began protesting silently behind him.

And then, from behind the trees, emerged a giant pink unicorn.

For many new students, this marked the true beginning of a movement to encourage the university to stop investing in fossil fuel companies.

So in the face of this pressure, Vanderbilt divested right?

Not exactly.

At an alumni event, just two months after the Founders Walk Protest, Chancellor Diermeier was asked about the university’s stance on fossil fuel divestment. His response?

“We will not do that.”

Since then, student activists have relentlessly pursued their goal of fossil fuel divestment through both disruptive and non-disruptive means.

So will Vanderbilt ever divest?

In the first episode of our three-part series on divestment, we will talk to the students at the heart of these organizations to understand what they want, why this issue matters, and the challenges they currently face.


This episode was reported by Abhinav Krishnan, Trent Griffith, and Nandika Chirala. Abhinav Krishnan is also our Host and Executive Producer. Brynn Jones is our Audio Producer, Cara Kim is our Audience Engagement Manager, and Emery Little designed our logo.

All of the music in this episode was produced by Brynn Jones or sampled from Goldfinch by Axletree under a Creative Commons License

Thanks to Miguel Moravec, Emily Irigoyen, and Hannah Bruns for sharing their stories.

Thanks also to the Vanderbilt Communications Department, the Office of Investments and the Office of the Chancellor for answering our questions.

Special thanks to Atman Mehta at the Chicago Maroon for helping us navigate the SEC’s Edgar database and Mike Vasquez at the Chronicle of Higher Education for helping us focus our reporting. Additional thanks to Jessica Barker, Juliana Kim, and Samantha Max for reviewing our script.

This story was originally published on The Vanderbilt Hustler on April 13, 2022.