As Yale Chief Investments Officer David Swensen gave a talk on Tuesday, members of the Endowment Justice Coalition directly confronted Swensen for the first time ever, requesting a response to their demands for fossil fuel and Puerto Rican debt divestment. Their query was met with silence.

A half-hour into a Poynter Fellowship in Journalism talk with Swensen and NPR correspondent Chris Arnold on the topic of personal finance, approximately 40 climate change activists from various Yale and New Haven advocacy groups — who comprised almost half of the audience — stood up to interrupt the speakers. At the same time, 20 students staged a sit-in at the lobby of the Yale Investments Office for the third time this year.

“David Swensen, while you stand here teaching us how to hoard wealth, there are 20 students sitting-in at the Investments Office,” Lorna Chitty ’20, a member of the Yale Democratic Socialists, said from the audience. “When will you respond to years of student activists demanding divestment?”

As Chitty continued questioning Swensen, Arnold requested the activists have a “civil conversation” about the issue at a different time while Associate Dean of Yale College George Levesque repeatedly asked for the demonstration to end. Swensen did not respond to the protesters.

The action did not appear to come as a surprise for the Yale administration — around 10 Yale Police and Public Safety Officers were stationed at Swensen’s event before the demonstration even began. At the beginning of the talk, Levesque preemptively told the audience that if a demonstration were to occur and did not end in a timely manner, Yale Police would be called to end the protest.

Carrying banners reading “Yale is complicit” and “cancel the debt” and chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho fossil fuels have got to go,” the activists left the event to march to the Yale Investments Office, just as 16 other members of the Coalition were receiving trespassing citations for refusing to leave the building’s lobby after it closed for the day at 5 p.m.

“Nonviolent direct action is a necessary and just response to a rigged and fraudulent democratic system of representation,” Ross Pennock DIV ’21, a member of the Endowment Justice Coalition, said in a statement.

The Yale Investments Office declined to comment for the story.

This demonstration marked a change in the Coalition’s strategy — as this was the first time the activists directly confronted investments officials with their demands.

“Even though we’ve [previously] gone through all the appropriate channels, [Swensen] has still continued to ignore all of these things,” Chitty said. “If success looks like proving to everyone that the administration and the Investments Office would rather ignore student activism and the will of the students, then the action was successful in itself, but I would love a response.”

The Endowment Justice Coalition includes Fossil Free Yale, Despierta Boricua and the Yale Democratic Socialists.

Jesse Nadel | jesse.nadel@yale.edu 

  • Nancy Morris

    Yale students who disrupt or interfer with others attempting to speak should be appropriately disciplined, and “activists” not Yale students should be criminally charged. For 40 self-appointed “climate change activists” (actually acting as thugs) to disrupt this Poynter Fellowship in Journalism event and interrupt the speakers is entirely inconsistent with Yale’s mission and purpose. Further, in the future additional security measures should be put in place to prevent this kind of disruption and protect Yale’s commitment to free speech. The type of thuggish organized mob behavior described in this article probably poses the greatest threat to free speech at Yale and orher universities, and institutions receiving federal funding should take especial care that such abuses are discouraged and those indulging in such behavior are disciplined.

  • Nancy Morris

    Freedom of speech is far more valuable than glass. Those who in the name of political correctness and demands destroy or disrupt the opportunities of others to speak might as well assert the right to smash the others’ crystal.

  • Aglovale

    My thanks to these students for continuing to stand up to the administration on this matter. Doing Yale proud.

  • Phil Ostrand

    So you divest and absolve the debt of PR. OK then what? Since the University will lose money from this, should tuition be raised? Should the policy of needs blind admissions be cancelled? How do we provide energy now without fossil fuels? What about the PR bondholders, does Yale compensate them for their loss on the bonds?

    Democratic Socialists… another name for people who do not think things through.

    • legist16

      Well, when you have no concept of economics, this is to be expected. Yale’s “hoarding” of wealth is what allowed Ms. Chitty to attend Yale without paying an arm and a leg.