Student activist group Fossil Free Penn (FFP) held a silent protest at a meeting of the University of Pennsylvania’s Board of Trustees on Friday, November 3.
The protest began at 11:00 A.M. at Van Pelt Library as nearly 50 students came together with signs reading, “Divest now,” “Stop funding climate change,” “$12.4 million lost by not divesting,” “Climate change causes over 150,000 deaths per year,” and “The fossil fuel industry funds climate denial and the deliberate dissemination of false information.”
Zach Rissman, college sophomore and FFP campaign coordinator, explained the goal of the protest: “The goal of today’s event is to show the trustees that there is overwhelming student support for divestment and a unified student front of a lot of students who really care about this issue.”
Penn currently invests about 3% of its endowment in the fossil fuel industry, and FFP wants to change that. Even if divesting from fossil fuels causes a hit to the rate of return on the University’s endowment, the group argues that consequences of not acting on climate change “would be bad for Penn and the world,” Rissman said.
The crowd then marched to the Inn at Penn shouting chants like, “Hey hey, ho ho, fossil fuels have got to go,” “Hey, hey, Amy G., make Penn fossil free,” “The people united will never be defeated,” “No more coal, no more oil, keep your carbon in the soil,” and “We’re here, we’re hot, this planet’s all we’ve got!”
The students later arrived at the Trustees’ meeting and stood silent holding their signs for the majority of the hour-long event. The protest drew looks from some of the Trustees, but none acknowledged the students.
“The trustees have a pattern of ignoring us and we want to make a situation in which they can no longer ignore us,” Rissman said. “Standing in silent protest is, I think, one of the best ways to really force them to no longer ignore us anymore.”
Onlookers of the protest were optimistic about the students’ efforts. Pauline Saribas, Penn alumna and member of Natives at Penn, said she is “so happy that Penn students are involved.”
Dr. Amy Gutmann, President of the University of Pennsylvania, was present at the meeting and spoke briefly about the achievements of the University and looked forward to the future. “We will never stop seeking ways to do better in the world,” she said with pride.
President Gutmann did not acknowledge the protest.
When asked to comment on the protest, one Trustee that wished to remain anonymous said, “There generally isn’t any interest in it.”
Despite the lack of response, FFP members called the protest a success. Jacob Hershman, a sophomore in the College, praised the fact that “the majority of the people who participated today [he has] never seen in activist circles in the past.”