Reuben Ng

Nearly 50 student protesters received notice from the Yale College Executive Committee — the body that adjudicates disciplinary infractions — stating that the committee has opened formal investigations into their conduct for “Trespassing” during sit-ins at the Investments Office, according to five students with knowledge of the situation.

The Executive Committee notified the students, who are associated with the Endowment Justice Coalition, on April 3 because of the students’ involvement in two different protest activities at the Investments Office — one in December and the other in March. During both demonstrations, students sat outside Chief Investment Officer David Swensen’s office and chanted in the lobby of 55 Whitney Ave. The police frequently asked the students to leave on both days, and when the building closed at 5 p.m., the students remaining inside received community service summons or $92 fines, which the students crowdfunded. Before leaving, a Yale police officer also made note of each student’s identification information.

But after months of radio silence from the Yale administration, the roughly 50 students reportedly received notices from the Executive Committee, stating that they “may have violated the Undergraduate Regulations regarding ‘Trespassing,’” according to a copy of one student’s notice obtained by the News. The notice also informed students they should select an adviser to provide guidance and informed each individual student they could respond to the allegation in writing.

“I do respect the work that the Executive Committee does, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are being essentially punished for peacefully protesting,” said Adriana Colón-Adorno ’20, one of the student protesters who received a letter from the committee. “Even if we’re not given any disciplinary punishment, that doesn’t change the time and effort and energy that this whole process is taking from us.”

One of the notified students — who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution — saw the timing of the notification, which fell close to Bulldog Days, as an intimidation tactic designed to discourage any further protest action while prospective students were on campus.

She added that the police report listed the victim of the crime as “society.”

“We’re doing this because we’re trying to solve the climate crisis,” the anonymous student said. “It’s a very strange thing to be referred to as a menace to society.”

In interviews with the News, four protesters who received the Executive Committee notice said that the threat of disciplinary action will not discourage the Endowment Justice Coalition from further activism.

Jamie Chan ’22 said the notification and her previous police citations have made her wary of participating in future sit-ins for fear that it could affect her standing at Yale. Still, she added that she hopes to continue advocating for divestment from the fossil fuel industry and Puerto Rican debt through other channels, such as banner marches or other lower-risk forms of direct action.

“Even though I’m a bit intimidated by whatever actions that the Executive Committee can have on me, I’m definitely not backing down in that sense,” Chan said. “Having a habitable, just future is definitely more important to me than just being a Yale student. I still think that student activism is very important in keeping the Yale administration accountable. The fact that they’re placing these disciplinary measures on us is a sign that we are a disruption — it’s a signal that we can’t be ignored.”

Paul North, chair of the Executive Committee and professor of Germanic languages and literatures, said that the Executive Committee, as an independent body, is “very consistent for holding hearings for anyone who broke the rules.”

He added that he hopes the students work out their demands with the University through other methods, such as town halls or meetings with administrators.

“I would hope that the students in the protests would sit down with officials at Yale and talk out their differences as soon as possible because this doesn’t seem to be the most salutary way to go,” North said. “We would prefer not to see protest groups at ExComm.”

Several of the students who received the letters told the News that they are optimistic that they will not face harsh disciplinary measures for their actions.

Colón-Adorno, one of the students who received the notice, said students who received the letters have spoken with peers who have gone through the Executive Committee process in the past. She said that by examining previous cases, they found that the Executive Committee tended to be lenient toward students who participated in nonviolent direct action.

“There’s no guarantee of what will happen with these, but we hope that the Executive Committee will continue to be sympathetic toward activists by recognizing the service we’re doing for the Yale community,” she said.

Colón-Adorno added that the Executive Committee process and risk of punishment are still “scary” for many students and “worrying to families who have sacrificed a lot to have their kids here.”

Max Teirstein ’21 believes that the student activists have “backed Yale into a corner” with how it can handle potential disciplinary measures.

Teirstein added that Yale would not be able to suspend or expel the students involved in the sit-in because “the school would freak out.” and the national media would likely cover the incident. Still, the school cannot sit idly by and risk making conservative donors angry, Teirstein argued.

“So what can they do?” Teirstein said. “They’re trying to scare us, but in reality, they are the ones that are scared.”

In the 2016–17 academic school year, 45 students were charged with academic dishonesty.

Asha Prihar | asha.prihar@yale.edu

Carly Wanna | carly.wanna@yale.edu

  • CarlHarmonica

    Golden reporting: The students were charged with trespassing and these genius reporters thought 45 students being charged with academic dishonesty was a great context to this Excomm case. Yale tuition well spent!

  • ldffly

    ” . . . . risk making conservative donors angry . . . .” Is that the punch line to a joke?
    You mob up and m f a senior member of the faculty in public, you did no wrong according to the dean and President Salovey. You sit in at an office, then Ex Com comes calling. I won’t even pretend to understand what is going on with this Yale administration.

  • Nancy Morris

    There is no mention here that at the same time 20 students staged a sit-in at the lobby of the Yale Investments Office earlier this month (for the third time this year), approximately 40 climate change activists from various Yale and New Haven advocacy groups (including the Endowment Justice Coalition) disrupted a Poynter Fellowship in Journalism talk being given by Yale Chief Investments Officer David Swensen, together with NPR correspondent Chris Arnold. The Poynter disrupters comprised almost half of the audience, and stood up with the deliberate intention of interrupting the speakers. That disruption by what appears to be the same group active in the YIO sit-ins is far more serious than the already highly improper occupations of the YIO space. The failure to note the connections is evidence of further YDN decay.

    The investigation reported in this article is measured and appropriate, but the students involved should not expect to receive only non-severe discipline.

    Those occupying the YIO offices appear to have co-ordinated with the disrupters of the Poynter Fellowship. If that is so, ALL of those involved should be held equally accountable for both actions. The reported co-ordination with outside groups should be taken as a substantial aggravating factor. Both the sit-in and Poynter disruption should be considered at a serious hearing, for which I would be inclined to allow those involved to engage legal representation. If the findings pursuant to the hearing confirm that these people behaved as reported, they should be disciplined in a manner commensurate with their offenses, which as reported are not small.

    Suspension of the students involved may be appropriate, and criminal referrals of those who are not Yale students to the civil authorities is definitely appropriate. But an extended period of probation with a warning that any such students committing further such infractions will be subject to summary suspension, should be (in my opinion) a minimum penalty. Fines and some serious mandatory community service might be considered. It would also be appropriate to bar such students from attending all events relating to the endowment or divestment or related subjects for a period of time, with violation of the ban triggering summary suspension. In the case of true recidivists, expulsion is in order.

    Protesting is to be tolerated and even enabled as part of the Yale mission. But disrupting the speech of others as these divestment activists did (according to reports), strikes at the fundamental missions and functions of the university. The same is true of repeated trespassing that evidence not just protest, but the intent to disrupt the work of others. Yale students may express their disagreements with YIO policy, but they may not disrupt YIO functioning. And those who are not Yale students have no place on university property at all.

    Measures should also be taken to reduce the likelihood of such disruptions in the future. Perhaps those attending certain events should be required to indicate in writing that they may protest, and sign a pledge before the event not to disrupt it. In many cases protests in the event space should not be permitted, but required to take place elsewhere. Perhaps those attending should be required to specifically promise to abide by such restrictions, subject to defined penalties for breach of the pledge. Such penalties should be substantial and scrupulously enforced.

    No doubt others have more refined ideas. But something should change. Recent events clearly evidence growing arrogance and pretentiousness among some divestment activists, leading to their misconceived belief that the righteousness and purity of their thoughts authorizes them to thuggishly strong arm others. That should not be tolerated. In particular, while Professor North’s sentiments are appropriate and admirable, one should note that the level of arrogance and pretentiousness among some divestment activists appears to be moving them beyond the approach he favors.

    • nancymorrisisanarc

      you are a narc

    • ldffly

      “No doubt others have more refined ideas.”
      I do not have more refined ideas. I have one idea, far more blunt than yours. Disrupting the talk by David Swensen, or any talk, should result in expulsion. As in go home, find a job, or maybe go to junior college, just don’t plan on coming back to Yale. This would not be a tactic to intimidate protest or speech, but a tactic to restrain the screeching of the divestment lot or any other screeching lot.

      “But something should change.”

      Yes, the administration should change. The administration’s dereliction of responsibility regarding the incident with Nicholas Christakis still shines like a green light to students who live to command the minds and speech of those on the Yale campus. “No, you do not command, you must argue,” is what the administration and faculty must tell students over and over again. Not just in words but when any students violate that precept the administration must act with strength.

      Yale students should be admitted on the basis of their maturity. Maturity implies a capacity to recognize that one’s own ideas are not the only ideas on the face of the earth. If authentic plurality of ideas bothers a Yale applicant, then he or she needs to find another place to go to school.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Hating fossil fuels is pathetic.

  • thorntme

    “Activists” at Yale would be well advised to remember that since 2005 annual U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have declined by 758 million metric tons. That is by far the largest decline of any country in the world over that timespan and is nearly as large as the 770 million metric ton decline for the entire European Union. Meanwhile, Germany and France, for all their laudable rhetoric, have succeeded in driving up the cost of energy to levels unimagined in the USA. China and India continue spewing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at staggering rates. Maybe they should reconvene during the summer somewhere else where it might do some good. I would suggest they try protesting in Mumbai or Beijing. They can borrow the travel money and add it to their student loan tally.