New Haven – Months after promising to escalate its tactics in the wake of the Yale Corporation’s refusal to divest from fossil fuels, Fossil Free Yale staged a sit-in inside Woodbridge Hall.
Shortly before 9 am Thursday, 48 members of FFY entered the seat of the Yale administration and refused to leave unless the administration “publicly [committed] to reconsider fossil fuel divestment, and [explained] why the conversation on divestment needs to be reopened.” During the afternoon, roughly 150 protesters congregated outside the building, encircling it in a human chain.
Yale Police Department Chief Ronnell Higgins then issued a 5 pm deadline for the protesters inside the building to exit. Nineteen, however, chose to remain, leading Higgins to threaten arrest.
“If anyone here does not want to leave, then you will be arrested,” Higgins told the students.
The 19 were then issued “infraction tickets,” which carried a US$92 fine. But in the hours after the students walked out of the back entrance of Woodbridge Hall, waving their tickets before a cheering crowd, conflicting reports of the punitive measures emerged—notably, whether the students had, in fact, been arrested.
University spokesman Tom Conroy maintained that no students were arrested. Further, Senior Advisor to the President and Provost Martha Highsmith wrote in an email to the News that the infraction involves paying a fine and the students were not “booked” or arrested. Protesters, however, told a different story.
“They said, this is your arrest, this is your warning to leave or we are going to arrest you,” FFY Communications Coordinator Chelsea Watson Yale ’17 said. “We did not leave, so they arrested 19 students in the building.”
Watson added that members of FFY left Woodbridge Hall with the understanding that they had been arrested and described the change in the University’s language as “strategic.”
“They showed they would rather arrest their students than actually engage in a conversation with us,” said FFY organizer Alexandra Barlowe Yale ’17, one of the 19 students. “I think it is pretty disgusting. But it just makes me feel all the more excited to keep fighting and they should expect to hear more from us soon.”
FFY Project Manager Mitchell Barrows Yale ’16 said that Higgins called each student one by one to issue the infractions. Barrows added that the students will likely have to appear before the Executive Committee and face any disciplinary action that Yale deems necessary, although he said the specific punishment—which would follow the infractions already issued—is not “set in stone.”
Prior to Higgins’ warning to students, University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews told students that their failure to leave the building at 5 pm might result in their “temporary or permanent separation from the University.”
Goff-Crews said that the University has a clear process for hearing student concerns regarding the University’s investment policy. She encouraged students to work through the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, whose members are then responsible for conveying student opinions to the Yale Corporation Committee on Investor Responsibility.
Further, Highsmith said University President Peter Salovey met with students Thursday and will communicate their sentiments to the Corporation.
In the seven months since the CCIR’s recommendation against divestment, FFY has staged a number of protests outside Woodbridge Hall. Watson said that working through official administrative channels, such as meeting with the ACIR, has been “completely ineffective,” thus necessitating direct confrontation with the administration.
But even after leaving with the tickets in hand, protesters felt the sit-in was successful. Barlowe said the group will continue to increase pressure on the administration in the coming weeks.
“We came here to make a point and we made that point,” Barrows said.
Larry Milstein reported from New Haven.