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 a.m. Thursday morning, 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 p.m. 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 $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 ’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 ’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 ’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 p.m. might result in their “temporary or permanent separation from the University.”

“There are offenses that are subject to disciplinary action,” she said, citing the Undergraduate Regulations. “Among them are … participation in any effort to prevent or disrupt a class or any other University function, or to seize or occupy any University building.”

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.

Almost immediately after the members of FFY entered the building, Salovey addressed them. According to Pilar Montalvo, the director of administrative affairs for the President’s Office, Salovey suggested that FFY stay in touch with the ACIR and work through its chair, law school professor Jonathan Macey LAW ’82. She added that when FFY asked to have direct contact with the CCIR, Salovey replied that he would “certainly pass along that message.”

But FFY responded with a new set of demands, this time further detailing the conditions under which they would voluntarily leave the administrative premises.

“So that we are negotiating in good faith, for us to leave, [the administrative response] should include not only that the Corporation is ‘open to hearing new arguments’ as President Salovey claimed,” the letter detailing FFY’s revised demands read. “Instead, this statement should explicitly state the arguments on which it will reconsider divestment.”

Goff-Crews told students that the administration will share FFY’s new statement with the entire Corporation.

However, without the confirmation that the question of divestment would be reconsidered by the CCIR, members of FFY said they felt they had no choice but to remain in the hall.

While the protesters formed a human chain around Woodbridge, Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12 talked with Higgins on the steps of the building. She was initially unsuccessful in gaining entrance, but Higgins later allowed her in.

In an interview with the News after the protest, Eidelson said that, while in the building, she sought to ensure the students’ rights were not being violated.

“The freedoms they’re exercising — the freedom to protest and the freedom to get an actual fair hearing for their concerns — are extremely serious rights,” she said.

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.

“We felt the need to demonstrate that we take this issue seriously, we take our future seriously,” Barrows said. “If we are willing to take this risk and show that we mean business, maybe the Corporation and President Salovey will see that and take this issue more seriously.”

Barrows described this sit-in as part of FFY’s escalation of pressure on the administration to reopen the question of divestment. He added that when the members of FFY first entered Woodbridge, the staff on hand was “a little shell-shocked” but the group had been received with respect.

But even after leaving with the tickets in hand, protestors felt the sit-in was successful.

Barlowe said FFY does not plan to renew the sit-in on Friday. But 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.

This article has been updated to reflect the version published in print on April 10, 2015.

Clarification, April 9:

An earlier version of this article suggested that the 19 students had been arrested. Though both the Yale Police Department and members of FFY used the language of “arrest” in describing the punitive measure students received following the Woodbridge Hall sit-in, representatives of the University maintained on Thursday evening the students were not formally arrested but were issued infraction tickets — a penalty that does not appear on Department Of Justice criminal records.

  • At Harvard

    Actually, a student was arrested at Harvard a few months ago for refusing to stop blockading a door to an administrative building.

    On another note, what is with the social justice warriors’ conflation of arrest and administrative action? A police department is a police department, and if you refuse to leave a location where you are disrupting business, you get arrested. Yale as a university didn’t decide to arrest its own students. The law is the law.

    • Veronica

      It wasn’t New Haven police who arrested them — it was Yale police. And yeah you’re right, at Harvard, one student was arrested for organizing a blockade to not allow people in/out of the building. At Yale, the students were literally sitting on the staircase, making sure there was room for people working in Woodbridge to walk around. Yale was the first to arrest their students just for wanting their voices to be heard.

      • Mary Ann

        Whatever these FFY goons thought they were doing, it certainly is not the case that they were cited “just for wanting their voices to be heard.” In fact, by their own admission they had tired of having their voices heard by those who disagreed with what those voices were saying, and decided to move on to criminal bullying.

        Questions for Veronica: If somebody from the street comes into your home uninvited and camps out in your hallway, you would call the police pronto to have him arrested … even if he was “making sure there was room for people [living in your home] to walk around?”

        And if he cried out as the police hauled him off to the slammer that you had him arrested “just for wanting his voice to be heard,” you would consider his cry further evidence that he was seriously mentally ill, something you would have already concluded from his behavior?

        And your conviction that he absolutely had to be arrested would be especially confirmed if this street person had complained to you repeatedly on the sidewalk in front of your home that you take too many long, hot showers … which he pointed out strains both energy and water resources … and that he moved into your hall because you ignored him?

        And you would feel entirely justified obtaining a restraining order against him? Maybe one that required him to stay, say, 100 yards away from you and your home at all times?

        Right? Have I got that all right?

        Any lights starting to go on for you, Veronica?

        • Veronica

          They sat in an administrative building — run and owned by the Yale as a university. Their sit in didn’t target an individual; FFY’s asks were for Yale as an institution to make a statement. Your home occupation comparison is a very superficial parallel.

          I can’t engage in meaningful discourse with you– your comments show fundamental misunderstandings of the justice system, political organizing, and why there’s a need for student power.

          • Mary Ann

            I notice that you provide absolutely no explanation as to why the university/individual distinction you isolate makes a principled difference at all, and especially why it explains that a physical occupation of Woodbridge Hall constitutes for FFY “just … wanting their voices to be heard,” but would not have that same substance in your own hallway. Details, details.

            Also, it’s so generous of you to explain that you have a broad and correct understanding of these things and I don’t. Without your brilliant explanation of that, I might have thought otherwise. Perhaps at some point in the future you will grace us with an actual reasoned explanation for your conclusions, but I see you have foresworn all that for the time being, preferring to issue diktats. I would especially be interested in that “need for student power” you mention. I always enjoy hearing people explain why they “need” power.

            It’s so sad that you say you can’t engage in meaningful discourse with someone whose “comments show fundamental misunderstandings of the justice system, political organizing, and why there’s a need for student power.” In other words, you can’t engage in “meaningful discourse” with someone who seriously disagrees with you. But child Veronica: If you can’t have meaningful discourse with those who seriously disagree with you, then you don’t really know what you’re talking about. On the other hand, if you don’t already know that, you may be ineducable. Nevertheless, at some point life will dictate that lesson, whether you like it or not, and regardless of whether you choose to accept the lesson. Veronica, you are going to have a very hard time of things indeed.

          • Veronica

            “But child Veronica: If you can’t have meaningful discourse with those who seriously disagree with you, then you don’t really know what you’re talking about. ” LMAO! I can engage with people I disagree with. I don’t see a logical leap between us not agreeing, and you misunderstanding FFY

  • Bob

    Yale may be the only university in the country that doesn’t let the inmates run the asylum. Respect!

  • Guest

    Whoa, whoa, whoa: Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12 said “The freedoms they’re exercising — the freedom to protest and the freedom to get an actual fair hearing for their concerns — are extremely serious rights.”

    Freedom of speech ≠ a right to be heard; enforcing that would impinge on one’s freedom to ignore. Of course forcing–and using force to enforce–rights deemed more-equal by collectivists is a long-standing tactic and goal. Brendan Eich, Larry Summers and the threatened-with-flames Memories Pizza (IN) know a lil bit ’bout that.

  • sy

    Wrong place. FFY should stage a sit-in at the Yale School of Drama, Harkness Tower, Saybrook, Branford, or WLH, all built with the investments from Stephen, Anna, Charles, Edward and William Harkness (Standard Oil). Then a FFY sit-in at Yale’s own fossil fuel utility plant that unethically substitutes cheap fossil fuel for renewable energy such as forest logs and whale oil. And a sit-in at Bass Library (from Texas alumni and investment) where there are reports of zero alternatives to hydrocarbon fuels for jets, ships, trains, buses, trucks and long-distance auto, and only nuclear alternatives for winter heating. As McAuliffe wrote to a group of cocksure German demonstrators demanding the surrender of a Belgian town for their ideology, “NUTS!”

  • je11

    Utterly shameful. If they really think fossils fuels are so bad, they should put their money where their mouths are and stop using fossil fuels themselves (I seriously doubt they have completely abstained from all fossil fuel use – like most hypocritical environmentalists). I can’t think of another product that has enriched the lives of so many and provided valuable energy needs to more of humanity.

    • what?

      You really think a handful of kids abstaining from common household products would have a larger impact than a most prestigious university (revered for having the largest annual returns on its endowment) switching its investments to clean, renewable energy? Utterly shameful, je11.

      • je11

        No, but the whole point is that if you really think fossil fuels are that evil, you should put your money where your mouth is and stop using them. I think it’s hypocritical that many of my environmentalist friends use fossil fuels. The whole point is, fossil fuels are essential in today’s society and it seems ridiculous to try to deny that fact.

  • Mary Ann

    The most fitting response would be to have all of the “occupying” FFY members arrested so they spend the night or two in New Haven jail in cells with assorted hookers and the like. No need to rush. During their jail time, clear out their rooms and put their stuff in storage. When they return from jail, all of their rooms should be “occupied” by other deserving people. They can look for lodgings at the Days Inn or some boarding house or wherever. Fun!

    • Veronica


      • Mary Ann

        Do you have a question, Veronica?

        Do you not find appealing the thought of those illegally occupying the spaces of others should occupy a jail cell for a short time with other minor law breakers, and then find their own spaces occupied by others?

        FFY believes that “occupying” the spaces of others is a good way to send a needed message. So “occupying” should be a good way of sending FFY the message that criminal trespass is not the way to express oneself. One should, instead, learn to “use your words,” as two and three year old children are so often told, but those in FFY apparently didn’t understand back in the nursery. No?

        Or is there some other question on your mind?

        • Veronica

          your comments are absurd.

          • Mary Ann

            Well, at least you now have the honesty to admit that you no longer will bother with any pretense of reason, but simply rule by decree.

        • Veronica

          FFY knows how to use its words very well. You should read their website because you obviously have an incredibly superficial understanding of what their asks are, and generally how organizing works.

          • Mary Ann

            Yes, it’s true, I “have an incredibly superficial understanding of what their asks are.”

            In fact, in my utter foolishness I actually thought FFY was asking for divestment by the Yale endowment from investments in fossil fuel companies!

            How could I have been so “incredibly superficial?” O my, my, my. You are so right!

          • Veronica

            LOL that was not their ask. Their ask for the sit-in was to release a public statement that they would reconsider divestment.

  • Hieronymus Machine

    I’m actually interested in the “demands.” If, say, FIFY were demanding more money spent on STEM (to develop solar power or more efficient technologies), I’d be all over that. If the group were demanding that Yale upgrade its HVAC systems or its steam system or redesign its physical plant–I would understand.

    But… divestment?

    The idea that selling one’s stake in Exxon will magically change the world–or do… *anything*–indicates more of a non-intellectual, emotional response than something real or rational or meaningful. Indeed, almost as if being opposed or “ignored” (to use *their* term*) were the goal, and not change. In other words, the ticket (summons): *that’s* the ticket! And the ticking off “occupied Woodbridge” on one’s Yale bucket list (not to mention ticking off those stodgy anti-justice-probably-r*cist-trigger(word)-happy capitalist pig-dogs…, but I digress).

  • ShadrachSmith

    Alinsky’s Rule #1,
    Power isn’t what you have, it is what the enemy thinks you have. EG, you can extralegally Occupy any offices you want, if you are a promoting a Democrat campaign meme. Ignore the law, you are above the law because you are in service to a Democrat campaign meme. Trust me, it works 🙂

    Political street theater and/or office occupation is a way of exerting extra legal power to forward your political agenda. Obama got elected president doing it. Warren surged to stardom with OWS. This is the new normal for Democrat activists; because, it works.

    Equal enforcement of the laws would cripple the delivery of major Democrat campaign memes. Shirley, nobody will suggest prosecution…they never do 🙂

  • Robert

    Amazing the people with the intellectual and critical thinking capacity of Yale students could get caught up in dreck like this.

  • yalie13

    Unfortunately, as comments here suggest, FFY is struggling to get its message across and I fear this publicity without message is hardening the ignorant (below) in thinking they’re just a bunch of whiners.

    FFY needs to make this clear: this is not a question of expressing that fossil fuels are bad. Everyone knows they suck. It’s not even a question of having a meaningful financial impact on the enormous fossil fuel industry. Obviously Yale or any other academic institution would be unable to do that.

    It’s a question of profit off an industry with enormous unethical externalities. Externalities that people who are privileged with an elite education have a duty to fight and lead the world away from, not be complicit in.

    There has never been an issue that is easier to be willfully ignorant of or belittle or rationalize away. But fossil fuels literally cause stuff like this ( And connecting the dots to arrive at the mother selling her children into bonded servitude is not intuitive, let alone straightforward. But there is indeed a serious moral dilemma that comes with investing in fossil fuels, one as severe as any other if not as fast-paced and glamorous.

    And in that light, reanalyze what it means to silence and threaten arrest against those who fight for that cause.

    • Mary Ann

      Actually, that’s almost all wrong. You seriously misstate an extraordinary number of things in a short post.

      As David Swensen and other articulate, coherent voices have pointed out, it is the CONSUMERS of fossil fuels who release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, not the fuel producers. If it were actually true that “this is not a question of expressing that fossil fuels are bad. … It’s a question of profit off an industry with enormous unethical externalities,” then FFY should be demanding divestment from power companies and tech companies like Google that CONSUME vast quantities of fuel. But FFY is NOT coherent. It’s a completely inarticulate and incoherent mess. In that sense, this latest stupidity of physically “occupying” (that is, criminally trespassing in) Woodbridge Hall beautifully expresses what FFY is really all about: giggly, inarticulate cluelessness.

      In fact, Swensen has explained a whole list of reasons why divestment does not make sense. But FFY makes no real effort to address his points. It is FFY that refuses to listen and refuses to engage in necessary dialogue. In fact, this “occupation” essentially amounts to FFY admitting they really have very little to say. The tact FFY had taken is thuggish: We will have our way, and if you don’t give it to us we will do whatever we think we need to do to get it, law or no law. If they continue with that line of thinking they will not only fail utterly in life generally, but end up on the receiving end of far worse than an infraction citation in New Haven.

      Contrary to your claim, FFY and other such groups DO insist against all reason and economic reality that this IS “a question of having a meaningful financial impact on the enormous fossil fuel industry,” despite the fact that any reasonably intelligent person would see immediately that “Obviously Yale or any other academic institution would be unable to do that.” Yes, FFY is that jaw-droppingly intellectually incoherent.

      Divestment is substantively meaningless for addressing FFY’s putative concerns. But it’s worse. Because it focuses on the wrong aspects of the salient issues, divestment is not even a good SYMBOL. And demands for symbols are the last refuge of misguided activists. Your failed attempt to reformulate the issue here as “a question of profit off an industry with enormous unethical externalities” is close to a demand for a symbol. But as noted above, your claim is nonsense and FFY doesn’t even have that much going.

      Further, fossil fuels are NOT “bad,” as anyone who imagines what Connecticut would be like if fossil fuels were entirely removed from the state tomorrow will realize. Or does freezing in the dark appeal to you? The matter is vastly more complex than any such truncated formulation could possibly capture. Whatever point it is you are trying to make, you definitely did not succeed in your bizarre formulation: “Everyone knows they suck.” It is true that “everyone knows” that people expressing themselves through such formulations come across as far less than thoughtful or insightful or worth heeding. Take the note.

      Maybe you need to take a nap? Those in FFY definitely do.

      • yalie13

        You really missed the entire point. There is no fair stretch between the logic of FFY and a notion that you should divest from google, even if it were true that they consume vast quantities of fuel, which they demonstrably do not. This is the ethical dilemma: profit off the business of consuming fuel, or to put it more bluntly, destroying the earth. Google or any company that uses electricity (last I checked, it was all of them) does not profit off of destroying the earth. The fossil fuel industry directly does. The more fuel we burn, the greater their profits. The more investment they get, the more they invest in ways to promote that method of energy consumption. We have a moral duty to not be a part of that. It’s not just a symbol. It’s a direct moral conflict.

        Here, take this example: say you are Yale in the early 19th century. Your students, like most of the country, gets the vast majority of their building and furniture supplies like lumber and stone from companies notoriously reliant on slaves, treating them as companies would treat slaves back then, nothing out of the social norm, but decidedly repulsively. Let’s call the lumber companies ExxonMobile.

        Now, imagine you have a group of students who yes, live in homes and have furniture. And yes, the wood and stone comes from the main suppliers of wood and stone: Exxonmobile. But those very students don’t want Yale to invest in Exxonmobile. Not because it will have a financial impact on them directly today, but because it raises the urgency against the complacency of the evil that’s slavery. Because it is a direct moral travesty investing in a company that profits directly off slaves.

        And recalcitrant naysayers will distract from that reality and say, “Imagine if connecticut got rid of all its lumber and stone- we’d have no buildings! Let these giggly inarticuate hippocritical tree huggers sleep on the streets and use rocks for tables! Perhaps freezing in the dark appeals to them.” Meanwhile, the status quo gets reinforced.

        And yes, fossil fuels do suck. Let there be no question. Just like slavery sucks. The human costs of global warming, which disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable, have been shown time and again to be comparable.

        History will judge us harshly.