The Yale Police Department arrested 48 people — the vast majority of whom were Yale undergraduates — on Friday, ending a five-hour sit-in at the lobby of the Yale Investments Office. A coalition of student groups, including Fossil Free Yale and Despierta Boricua, organized the event to protest Yale’s holdings in the fossil fuel industry and Puerto Rican debt.
Forty-three students, two graduate students, two New Haven residents and one faculty member — history professor Jennifer Klein — were cited for trespassing after refusing to leave the lobby of the Yale Investments Office after 5 p.m. — the time the Investments Office closes. In an interview with the News, University spokesperson Tom Conroy said police officers informed the students that the building was closing at 5 p.m., and that they would be given a ticket if they chose to remain in the lobby.
The Friday rally was another chapter in a six-year student campaign to urge the University to instruct its fund managers to cancel their holdings in Puerto Rico’s debt and divest from the fossil fuel industry. Yale holds an undisclosed number of shares in Exxon Mobil Corp., the largest oil company in the world, and directly invests $78 million in natural gas producer Antero Resources, according to Yale’s most recent 13F filings to the Securities and Exchange Committee. The University’s Form 990 for tax year 2015 also indicates that, as of June 2016, the University had about 3 percent of its endowment invested in a fund operated by the Baupost Group, a hedge fund which owns nearly $1 billion of Puerto Rico’s $70 billion debt.
“Yale profits off of climate destruction and the continued exploitation of Puerto Rico,” members of Fossil Free Yale said in a statement. “We envision and demand a University that instead invests in our futures and our city. … We demand that Yale consider our future instead of acting in a single-minded pursuit of profit. Students, New Haven and Puerto Rico are powerful, and we will hold this university accountable!”
University President Peter Salovey declined to comment, and Swensen did not respond to a request for comment.
At noon on Friday, 54 people entered the lobby of the Investments Office with the intention of remaining until Yale committed to divestment from fossil fuels and Puerto Rican debt. The sit-in featured performances and a remote conversation with environmentalist Bill McKibben, according to a Fossil Free Yale press release.
As the students in the lobby read their list of demands and sang “We shall not be moved,” more than 200 other students and New Haven activists gathered on Cross Campus. At 4 p.m., the group marched to the Investments Office, where they stood outside for over an hour chanting “Cancel the debt” and “Yale is complicit.”
Fossil Free Yale’s Friday rally came just before the Board of Trustees’ quarterly meeting. Prior to the meeting, senior trustee Catharine Bond Hill GRD ’85 told the News that trustees will discuss the University’s investment standards with Chief Investment Officer David Swensen. Since 1972, Yale has evaluated whether its investments cause “grave social injury” according to the guidelines outlined in the manual, “The Ethical Investor.” Noting that the discussion is intended to “inform and remind” the trustees of the ethical investor guidelines, Bond Hill explained that the Corporation is not considering any proposals for divestment at the moment.
Students interviewed by the News at the event said the rally was successful, although they expressed frustration at the administration’s unresponsiveness.
“Yale, through its pursuit of profit over people and climate, perpetuates U.S. imperialism and the climate crisis,” Tom Chu ’19 said. “We’re out here today –– we were sitting in for five hours to call Yale’s attention to these things and to make it so Yale can no longer sit idly by and ignore all of the climate destruction and the violence that it is complicit in.”
In an interview with the News, Conroy said Yale students are “engaged and passionate” and are entitled to hold peaceful demonstrations and exercise their freedom of speech. When asked whether the University will consider implementing the students’ demands, Conroy said he “[doesn’t] have an announcement or email about any new measures.”
In 2016, Swensen announced that the University had sold $10 million of its investments in three publicly traded oil-sands and coal producers. The Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility — the body that recommends investment policy changes to the Yale Corporation — came close to recommending divestment to the Corporation in December 2016.
According to the Yale Investments Office website, the committee concluded in January 2018 that divestment from Puerto Rican debt was not warranted, arguing that the Baupost Group — which holds a share of the commonwealth’s debt — was abiding by applicable bankruptcy and legal procedures.
Students who gathered outside the Investments Office Friday expressed frustration that the University continues to hold a stake in Puerto Rico’s debt.
Mikki Metteba ’22, a Fossil Free Yale spokesperson, told the News that, though the University has not implemented their demands, the rally was a success.
“The amount of positive energy and love and community at this rally right now, all for the sake of holding Yale accountable [for its investments], is incredible.”
At Harvard, a petition calling on the university to divest from fossil fuel companies garnered 150 signatures on Tuesday.
Marisa Peryer contributed reporting.
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