Group of UCI students and faculty petitions for Wells Fargo ouster from Student Center

A group of students and faculty members at UC Irvine is calling on the university to sever its ties with Wells Fargo by removing the bank from the Student Center and replacing it with a credit union available to all students.

The group, called UCI Economic Justice, emailed a letter to UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman this month outlining its demands, saying the university is "complicit in the oppression and exploitation of their most vulnerable students and our most vulnerable communities" by housing a commercial bank with ties to the Dakota Access Pipeline and private prisons.

The email included a link to an online petition supporting the request that had garnered more than 180 signatures as of Friday.

Forest Agostinelli, a computer-science graduate student and organizer of the group, said Thursday that it had not received a response from Gillman.

UCI spokesman Tom Vasich said Friday that the chancellor's office received the email, which was then forwarded to the student affairs office on campus.

But because UCI Economic Justice isn't a registered group at the university and names or phone numbers were not provided in the email, the university didn't know whom to contact, Vasich said.

"If they want to have a dialogue, we need names and contact information," Vasich said.

Wells Fargo's Orange County-based spokeswoman, Lisa Woolery, said Friday that the company respects people's opinions but that Wells Fargo will continue to serve students and the University of California system.

"There are many students and faculty who depend on our banking services for many things, including to access funds for textbooks, meals or other living expenses," Woolery said. "Taking away a banking option would keep students and staff from managing their finances, would force others to drive to a bank and would have no impact on the building of the pipeline."

The Student Center houses a Wells Fargo and a SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, both of which offer walk-in services. SchoolsFirst is available only to employees of an educational institution.

ATMs from Bank of America and Chase Bank are located throughout the campus.

Agostinelli, who drafted the letter in the email, said he believes the UC system needs to make steps to be an "ethical institution."

"They claim to be all about diversity and education, no matter [a student's] background," Agostinelli said. "It doesn't make sense that a Wells Fargo bank is allowed by administration on this campus if they want to be consistent with their recent actions."

Agostinelli referred to the UC system divesting $30 million of its holdings in companies that operate private prisons after facing pressure from students in 2015.

The system also decided to discontinue $475 million worth of contracts with credit providers and commercial paper dealers from Wells Fargo after demands made by the Afrikan Black Coalition, a group created in 2003 by black students in the UC system. Some contracts, however, are still maintained with the bank, according to UC spokesman Ricardo Vazquez.

Catherine Liu, a UCI film and media studies professor, said she supported Agostinelli's idea for a petition and called the plan "clear and concrete."

"It's what we can do on this campus to get this really bad player off our campus," said Liu, who primarily uses the SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union. "We don't need it in our student services."

For the time being, Agostinelli said, his group will try to raise awareness on campus by handing out fliers and holding an information session open to students.

priscella.vega@latimes.com

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