In a protest Tuesday afternoon, nearly a dozen students demanded that the University phase out its endowment investments in fossil fuel companies.
Before the steps of Woodbridge Hall — the University’s main administrative building that houses the offices of the President, Secretary and others — several students laid out a black tarp painted with the words “Yale Students Demand Divestment” in white. Led by Patrick Cage ’15 and Grace Steig ’16, the group claimed to be unaffiliated with any existing University organization — instead, they labeled themselves as concerned members of the Yale community. The protest comes several months after a Yale College Council referendum in Nov. 2013 showed that 83 percent of referendum voters, representing 43 percent of the total undergraduate population, favored divestment.
“Our goal is to show that the Yale Corporation needs to acknowledge that it does have a political role in its investments,” Cage said. “It’s currently investing in something that causes grave social and environmental harm.”
Steig added that the protesters sought to demonstrate the urgency of divestment from fossil fuel companies and to ensure that Corporation members are reminded of divestment’s importance to the Yale student body.
Joy McGrath, the chief of staff to University President Peter Salovey, said she was aware of the protesters and Woodbridge Hall staff were “in no way impeded by their activities.”
On the tarp, black liquid was spread over stuffed animals, and fake money was scattered across the ground. Some students were dressed in white overalls while others wore business suits to represent Yale Corporation members.
“The demonstration is showing the status quo,” Steig said. “[But] we think we can change that.”
Members of Fossil Free Yale, the leading student group advocating divestment, said they were not involved in the protest. Nevertheless, members of Fossil Free Yale said the group is still committed to urging the University to divest from fossil fuels using more internal and formalized channels.
Gabe Rissman ’16 said Fossil Free Yale and the administration do not seek to work against each other — instead, they are collaborating in a formal discussion.
Fossil Free Yale proposed the initial YCC referendum and has presented to the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR) — a committee of eight professors, students and alumni that evaluates ethical issues surrounding the University’s investments.
Based on work from Fossil Free Yale, the ACIR met with the Yale Corporation Committee on Investor Responsibility (CCIR) in February. The CCIR has the final authority to direct the Yale Investments Office on the issue of divestment and is expected to make a decision in the coming months.
“While we recognize the urgency of climate change that was demonstrated [in the protest], given our progress with the administration, the events of Tuesday are not the type of actions that Fossil Free Yale would find appropriate,” Rissman said. “We have faith in the Yale Corporation. The CCIR is committed to continuing the conversation.”
Hannah Nesser ’16, communications coordinator for Fossil Free Yale, said that while the group supports other students who share similar sentiments, the protest will have no effect on the actions taken by Fossil Free Yale. She added that it is crucial to work through institutional channels for as long as possible, since the University has its specific rules and standards.
Still, Cage said it is important to communicate that students outside of just one group care about divestment.
The protest in front of Woodbridge Hall lasted roughly an hour.
Lillian Childress contributed reporting.
Correction: April 2
Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that 43 percent of undergraduates voted in the Yale College Council referendum on divestment.