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 | firstname.lastname@example.org