On Monday, the Yale Police Department issued citations for trespassing to 17 activists who staged a two-hour sit-in in the lobby of 55 Whitney St., which houses the Yale Investments Office. The demonstrators — the majority of whom were undergraduate students — demanded that Yale divest from fossil fuel companies and companies that hold Puerto Rican debt.
At approximately 2:45 p.m. on Monday afternoon, two representatives from the organization — Adriana Colon ‘20 and Mary Whelan ‘19 — delivered a bouquet of flowers and a letter listing the Coalition’s demands to the Yale Investments Office. According to the two students, when they asked the receptionist to speak with members of the investments team, they were told that no workers were in the office due to the weather. Still, the students said that they saw employees at their desks.
Soon after, several dozen additional activists — including Yale undergraduates, Yale graduate students and community members — entered 55 Whitney Avenue, carrying “Yale is Complicit” signs and chanting protests, vowing not to leave the building until Yale agreed to their demands. At 5 p.m. — the time the Investment Office closes — activists were asked to leave, but 17 of them chose to remain and received citations from YPD officers. Most of the demonstrators were undergraduate members of the Endowment Justice Coalition, a consortium of Yale and New Haven groups including Fossil Free Yale and Despierta Boricua, the Puerto Rican students’ association.
The Investments Office declined to comment Monday evening.
“A big way how I think of direct action of the kind we just did is that it is a way of bringing the crisis to their door,” said Whelan, a coalition member who received a citation. “We know that Yale Investments Office decisions are causing violence and are deeply complicit in the things we care most about, but that’s not always clear in the spaces where the violence is being created, like in the business offices at 55 Whitney.”
The sit-in is the latest event in a string of protests and rallies demanding that Yale invests its $29 billion endowment more ethically — an issue that picked up traction with the creation of Fossil Free Yale, an anti-fossil fuel investments group, in 2013. Almost exactly three months ago, the coalition staged a sit-in at the same location on Dec. 7, which resulted in the arrest of 48 people.
Coalition member Lorna Chitty ‘20, who also received a citation at the sit-in, said that she sees direct action not only as a tactic to influence the Investments Office but also as an educational experience for those involved that prepares students for future social justice activism.
Though the Coalition received no responses from members of the investments team, Chitty expressed optimism that the coalition’s actions will lead to investment reform.
“The Investments Office has precedent in terms of divestment,” Chitty said. “They know that divestment is a powerful tool. They do it slowly but surely. They divested from apartheid. They divested from gun manufacturers. They know what they’re doing is wrong and they have the capacity to change that, so I’m hopeful they will.”
Whelan cited the leadership roles that first-year and sophomore students took in the most recent sit-in as evidence that the Coalition will continue to have an impact on campus in the years to come.
The activists showed no signs that this would be their last display of public civil disobedience. As they lined up awaiting their citations from the YPD, the demonstrators began to chant “We will be back.”
The activists live streamed the sit-in on the Fossil Free Yale Facebook page, drawing over 24,000 viewers.
Jesse Nadel | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, March 5: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the livestream of the sit-in drew over 100 viewers. In fact, it drew over 24,000 viewers.