Climate Action Carleton members at Friday’s Divestment Sit-In. Pictured from left to right: Andres Reyes, Sophie Price, Devan Sharma, Alex Zelenski, Steph Vienneau, Megan Williamson, Rebecca Chhom, Holden Heppler. Photo taken by Ella Milloy.
Students, faculty and community members converged on the Carleton University campus Friday to urge the school’s administration to divest from fossil fuels.
Climate Action Carleton, a student-led sustainability organization, organized the afternoon rally to raise attention to its #DivestNow campaign, which the school’s board of governors was expected to discuss at its 3 p.m. meeting.
Steph Vienneau, a third-year environmental studies student who helped organize Friday’s event – which drew about 50 people, said it provided an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of divestment to the Carleton community.
“Divestment is a topic at the board of governor meeting today,” Vienneau said. “They will be discussing whether it is practical for Carleton and whether they want to pursue it. Our goal today is to show just how much support we have.”
The #DivestNow campaign calls on Carleton University and the University of Ottawa to divest the university’s endowment funds from the fossil fuel industry. It also demands that both universities disclose all financial holdings of their investment portfolios and reinvest the divested funds into sustainable alternatives.
Vienneau explained the #DivestNow campaign represents a way for Carleton to become a leader in the divestment conversation.
“I think the #DivestNow campaign matters a lot because an academic institution like Carleton has a lot of agency in what they do,” Vienneau said. “Making a statement like divesting from fossil fuels, like so many other universities have, sends a strong message to the government, to investors and to industries that fossil fuels are no longer tolerable.”
Student-led divestment initiatives have taken root at post-secondary institutions across Canada and around the world to encourage university and college administrations to sell stocks, bonds and other funds that are invested in the fossil fuel industry.
Several high-profile Canadian universities, such as the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia and Université Laval in Québec City, Que., have already announced their divestment plans.
Additionally, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) expressed its support of post-secondary institutions divesting from fossil fuels in an article published in October.
Climate Action Carleton is one of many student groups within the broader Divest Canada Coalition. Made up of 30 groups from institutions across Canada, the coalition works to get post-secondary administrations to recognize the threat of climate change and address that threat by divesting fully from the fossil fuel industry and investing in sustainable alternatives.
Angela Dittrich, a 22-year-old York University graduate student who is jointly studying law and environmental studies, is an active member of Fossil Free, a divestment group at York University.
Dittrich said working collaboratively with other divestment groups within the Divest Canada Coalition has been a rewarding experience.
“It’s been really powerful to be able to talk to other divestment campaigns and learn from them,” Dittrich said. “We get to talk to the groups that have secured divestment, see what worked for them and what didn’t and just talk about the struggles and the victories together.”
Mary Stuart, a 22-year-old environmental studies major at the University of Ottawa and member of Climate Justice uOttawa, said she believes young people have a huge role to play in holding institutions accountable.
“Young people have a huge stake in seeing real climate action be taken seriously because we’re worried about our future,” Stuart said. “Young people really want a better future in terms of achieving climate justice. Not only are they fighting the climate crisis but they’re re-imagining a society that supports the well-being of people in general.”
Stuart added the climate crisis presents an opportunity to critically examine the root causes of the issue, including colonialism and capitalism.
“There’s a real drive to reimagine the way that we live and the relationships we have with each other and the planet,” Stuart said.
A crochet cartoon character sweater made by Ella Milloy and inspired by @artbykaraleez. Photo taken by Ella Milloy.
When the COVID-19 pandemic moved life inside, students started looking for new ways to stay engaged while adjusting to online lectures and tutorials.
Emma Charpentier, a second-year economics student at Carleton University, knew she needed to find a way to stay focused while sitting in front of her computer screen for hours attending her classes.
Through Reddit, Charpentier discovered Carleton’s Yarn for Change club, a member-based knitting and crochet group that actively recruits young people to attend meetings, learn new skills and create textile projects for donation.
“I started learning,” Charpentier said. “I didn’t get very far, but I did learn and it was pretty easy.”
She soon picked up a pair of knitting needles and started her first project. Working with her hands to create a lime green square allowed Charpentier to shift her focus without missing any important information in class. She enjoyed the simplicity of the activity and felt accomplished upon completing her first project.
“For a couple of weeks, I would just sit in class and I would knit while I was watching lectures. It lets you do something with your hands,” Charpentier said.
The pandemic provided many young people with the time and resources to discover and pursue new hobbies. Knitting and crocheting, two activities generally associated with an older generation, became the source of many viral trends and provided much needed relief from the stress of the pandemic. As a result, social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram quickly turned into hubs of creativity.
Not only were young people using these platforms to share videos of their creations, but they were also using them to start conversations about fast fashion and establish their own small businesses.
Over the course of the pandemic, 21-year-old American slow fashion designer Kara Lee used her growing TikTok and Instagram followings to pursue her passion for knitting and crocheting to sell her cartoon character cardigan design, establishing @artbykaraleez in September 2020.
TikTok became a space where many creative trends gained traction during quarantine and have lasted beyond the long months of isolation.
Videos of young creators crocheting giant bumblebees and knitting the famous J.W. Anderson cardigan sported by Harry Styles at a rehearsal for The Today Show in February 2020 filled users’ “for you” pages. More recently, British Olympic diver Tom Daley caused a stir online as fans related to his knitting as a way of dealing with his stress and pre-competition nerves.
Club offers space to connect outside virtual classes
In Ottawa, Carleton University’s Yarn for Change club welcomes growing interest in knitting and crocheting. The group charges a $5 membership fee to provide yarn for its members and make the student club more accessible. Members are encouraged to create projects such as dishcloths, mittens, hats and blankets for donation.
Like Charpentier, third–year Carleton health science student Malak Al Daraawi found the Yarn for Change club online. After coming across one of the club’s Reddit posts she decided to join, despite not having much experience with knitting.
“I didn’t have any experience, but the club is made up of so many different skill levels,” Al Daraawi said. “They gave me so many instructions and videos that could be useful. I wanted to get away from studying and because everything was online, [the club] was one of the only ways I could reach out to people and interact with them outside of lectures.”
Al Daraawi also noted that she grew closer to her mother and sister after learning about her mother’s ability to knit. Discovering this family time helped Al Daraawi manage the pressures of online school.
“[Knitting] really helped me because I got to sit down with my mother and I found out that she also knows how to knit and crochet,” Al Daraawi said. “I talked with my sister and had her learn with me. I’ve been able to find time I never thought I had to actually learn how to do it.”
Thousands of knitters and crocheters created the J.W. Anderson cardigan worn by Harry Styles in 2020. This wool cardigan was made by Ella Milloy
The beginning of Emma Charpentier’s first project. The finished square still hasn’t been removed from the original needles. Photo taken by Emma Charpentier.
A crochet scarf made by Ella Milloy using the moss stitch technique and wool. Photo taken by Ella Milloy.
This program was put on hold during the pandemic, but as public health restrictions continue to ease and a new executive team steps in, the Yarn for Change club plans to restart its donations, including for ways to give directly to homeless shelters or community organizations.
Working with a group and giving back to those in need helps build a sense of purpose, said Dean Verger, a professor in the psychology department at Carleton University. Verger explained how creative outlets like knitting and crocheting can help balance out feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.
“Having a goal of any sort that channels our thinking allows us to focus on something positive,” Verger said. “Even if you’re following a pattern, that means you’re counting stitches and all that processing is filling the space available for thinking, so that there’s no space left for worrying.”
In addition to alleviating feelings of stress and anxiety, knitting and crocheting also provide numerous other mental health benefits.
“There is a product that comes out of this activity that is tangible,” Verger explained. “They’re then going to give the finished product to somebody for a good cause. There are so many practical, mental and social benefits and the whole idea of doing something for someone else and doing something as a group for someone else is what makes us human.”
‘It feels good to give back’
At Carleton, the Yarn for Change club provides a space for young artists and designers to come together to socialize, create and give back to the local community. On a larger scale, the Ottawa Knitting Guild established a similar space for knitters across the National Capital Region in 1994.
The knitting guild sees the participation of up to 200 knitters every year. The guild’s community knitting group creates a variety of items to donate to local organizations such as the Mission, Shepherds of Good Hope and Warm Hands Network.
Jean Grundy, the guild’s current president, hopes more young people get into knitting and crocheting. Grundy sees an opportunity for collaboration and knowledge sharing between members as more young people get involved in the organization.
“The guild wants to serve Ottawa knitters,” Grundy said. “We are a community of Ottawa knitters and if we are not involving all groups, and that includes students, then we are not representative or inclusive. We want to bring in new ideas and new techniques. We want to pass on this knowledge.”
After learning how to knit as a child, Grundy picked the hobby back up when she attended Concordia University in Montreal and has continued to knit ever since.
Similar to Charpentier, Grundy uses knitting to relax and to keep her hands busy during work meetings.
“Your mind is free when you’re knitting and yet you have to be present in the moment because of what you’re doing.” Grundy said. “Ultimately, it feels good to give back to people.”