Marisa Peryer

Chants of “okay boomer” and “this is what democracy looks like” echoed across the Yale Bowl on Saturday as hundreds of students and alumni from Yale and Harvard stormed the field, demanding that both universities divest from fossil fuels.

The joint action also called for both universities to divest from private prisons and Puerto Rican debt, according to the students’ chants. While the majority of protesters left the field after roughly half an hour — at the urgings of the Yale Police Department, the New Haven Police Department and the game’s announcer — a small number of students and alumni was arrested after they refused to give up their ground. The protest delayed the start of the second half of the game.

Per a press release from Divest Harvard emailed by the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition, both Harvard and Yale are “losing badly in their efforts to address the climate change emergency.”

Students are tired of Harvard and Yale profiting off of climate destruction and neocolonial investments in Puerto Rico’s debt,” the release states. “It’s time for more than lip service and greenwashing from academic leaders. Harvard and Yale must address the climate emergency at the scale and with the urgency it demands. This action is only the beginning.”

The release cited various global issues, referring to wildfires in California, a United Nations report on climate change, and Puerto Rican families who have not recovered from Hurricanes Maria and Irma. Other signs held during the demonstration referenced the human rights abuses China has committed against Uighers.

In a statement to the News, University spokesperson Karen Peart wrote that Yale stands “firmly for the right to free expression.”

“We stand with the Ivy League in its statement that ‘It is regrettable that the orchestrated protest came during a time when fellow students were participating in a collegiate career-defining contest and an annual tradition when thousands gather from around the world to enjoy and celebrate the storied traditions of both football programs and universities,’” Peart wrote.

She added that the University is grateful to the staff members and police officers who responded to the situation, and that the exercise of free expression on campus is “subject to general conditions” — according to Peart, Yale does not allow disruption of University events.

Harvard Director of Media Relations Rachael Dane told the News in an email that Harvard will not comment on the student protest nor on the subsequent police activity.

She added that while the University agrees that climate change is an urgent global challenge, it “respectfully disagree[s]” with divestment activists about what type of action Harvard should take to confront the issue.

“Universities like Harvard have a crucial role to play in tackling climate change and Harvard is fully committed to leadership in this area through research, education, community engagement, dramatically reducing its own carbon footprint, and using our campus as a test bed for piloting and proving solutions,” Dane wrote.

Divest Harvard Press Coordinator Caleb Schwartz, who said he was arrested at the event, told the News that law enforcement officers did not seem prepared to handle a large-scale protest, and that reactions from those officers toward protesters were mixed.

“Some people were grabbed and shoved and pulled and kind of verbally intimidated, others were asked to leave and just talked to,” Schwartz told the News.

Peart did not comment specifically on the police’s conduct. In an email to the News, she said that 42 individuals were issued misdemeanor summons for disorderly conduct.

Schwartz added that the arrest process went quickly — protesters were taken from the field and given tickets and court dates for within the next “one or two weeks.”

According to Yale Coalition member Rachel Calcott ’22, the number of people who joined the demonstration was “not expected.” She said that her team had planned for 100 to 150 students sitting on the field, linking arms and calling for divestment. Arrests were inevitable, she said. But after a “really interesting surge” of people stormed the field — many of whom did not receive nonviolent protest training — Calcott said her team was worried about the protest and how it would end. Still, even though many dispersed before getting arrested, Calcott added that the student involvement was an “amazing show of support.”

“We really appreciated the people that joined us,” she said. Calcott and the Coalition are working to confirm how many total participants were arrested Saturday.

According to the press release, Academy Award-winning actor Sam Waterson ’62 faced arrest during the protest.

One Yale alumna who joined protesters on the field said that while neither she nor her companion knew about the planned protest, it was “really great to see that there’s still so much activism around this, and student body support.” She added that she looks forward to seeing how both the Yale and Harvard endowments proceed beyond the protest.

Some students emphasized the urgency of climate change and the need for continued action.

“We’re showing them that games like these, like life at Yale, cannot go on as usual until Yale divests, and we’re going to continue doing this,” Sophie Lieberman ’21 told the News from near the 50-yard line.

Schwartz told the News that his organization at Harvard has set a deadline for the university to divest: Earth Day 2020, or April 22. Calcott, on the other hand, said the Yale Environmental Justice Coalition wants to see the University divest as soon as possible.

“We as a campaign really believe that we’re living in a time of climate emergency, and the fact that our universities are failing to address their own role in continuing to profit on fossil fuels is something that needs to be urgently addressed,” Schwartz said.

He added that while about 150 people originally expressed their interest in the protest before it happened, the fact that several others spontaneously joined the protest as it happened also speaks to the urgency of the issue.

Saturday’s demonstration courted national media attention and received mixed reactions  both on campus and beyond. 

In a video statement, Harvard football team captain Wesley Ogsbury called on the two universities to follow the activists’ demands for divestment. According to Ogsbury, some of his teammates joined him in wearing orange wristbands — the color of the divestment movement — after the game in solidarity.

“We’re coming together to call upon President Bacow and Salovey to divest from the fossil fuel industry now, for the sake of our generation,” he said at the end of the video.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro — as well as U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and celebrities like George Takei, Kenneth Cole and David Hogg — took to Twitter to congratulate the protestors. But the proceedings also drew ire across the internet: Chairman of Students for Trump Charlie Kirk wrote in a tweet that he hoped the activists — whom he called “narcissistic” and “entitled” — would all be arrested for trespassing after a warning. (Calcott said that she had expected the “trolling.”)

Several Yale faculty members also shared their support for the demonstration. 

One of these faculty members, AIDs activist and Yale epidemiology professor Gregg Gonsalves, gave the protest an “A++” in a Twitter post. In an interview with the News, Gonsalves said the demonstration was at “the perfect place at the perfect time … I wish I could have been there.”

“We are in this mess because my generation and the generation before didn’t take climate change seriously,” he said. “I can’t think of a more salient issue that’s going to face your generation than climate change.”

Well into the demonstration, fans in the Yale Bowl grew restless at the interruption. As the announcer requested that students on the field leave “as a courtesy to the players,” several students yelled profanities. “F–– the players,” one said. Others called for the protestors to be arrested — and promptly. Once the last remaining demonstrators left the field, those in the Yale Bowl began cheering.

The demonstration comes two months after the Endowment Justice Coalition and other activist groups staged a campus-wide walkout in support of the same issues. A similar protest at Harvard drew hundreds, too, according to Divest Harvard’s press release.

The Endowment Justice Coalition also staged sit-ins at the Yale Investments Office last December and March. This April, dozens of the protestors received notices to appear before the Executive Committee for trespassing, as they remained in the building long after closing despite police officers’ numerous warnings. A similar fate could come to the Yale-Harvard protestors: According to Yale’s Undergraduate Regulations, demonstrations or protests that exceed Yale’s limits on free expression — including disrupting its “regular or essential operations” or significantly hindering others’ rights — “will subject the participants to temporary or permanent separation from the University.”

Even though Calcott could not confirm that more protests were coming, the press release charged the two universities with addressing climate change “at the scale and with the urgency it demands.”

“This action is only the beginning,” the release states.

Several students who participated in the sit-ins faced fines of roughly $90. Calcott said that this Saturday’s demonstrators could face the same punishment. But with so many participants, she said, “we don’t know what to expect.”

The Yale Investments Office manages the University’s roughly $30 billion endowment. According to a report, it decided in 2014 and 2016 to retain its holdings in fossil fuel companies. But increased scrutiny from activist groups led the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, composed of students, faculty, staff and alumni, to address the issue of Puerto Rican debt. They found that divestment “is not warranted when an investor is abiding by the applicable legal framework.” In the ACIR’s decision from 2018, they added “there have been no allegations of unethical debt collection efforts or practices.”

In a statement from September, spokeswoman Peart said that the Yale Investments Office has requested that the endowment managers not “hold” companies “that refuse to acknowledge the social and financial costs of climate change” and that do not take “economically sensible steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” Yale does not disclose its investments, she added. Earlier this semester, President Salovey formed a task force to determine how quickly the University can achieve net zero carbon emissions.

Yale and Harvard began their annual Game tradition on Nov. 13, 1875.

Nov. 23, 11:08 p.m.: This article has been updated from its original version to include additional details about the protest and reactions to it.

Matt Kristoffersen | matthew.kristoffersen@yale.edu

Valerie Pavilonis | valerie.pavilonis@yale.edu

  • http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/lists/the-10-worst-ways-to-die-in-a-hieronymous-bosch-painting-53872 Hieronymus Machine

    So selfish and self-centered, even self-destructive: Protesters can’t *really* think that this sort of action will change ppl’s minds, so, it must be for some vainglorious, self-congratulatory, virtue-signaling thing. “Hey! Looka me! Looka me!”

    Gosh y’all so miss the ’60s, yeah?

  • Papa Blue Stars

    They should have dragged every one of them off by their ankles, arrested them and certainly not allowed them to remain at The Game. If John Q Public had gone onto the field, they’d have been tackled, arrested and hauled off. Why treat these idiots any differently?

    All this does is tell the morons they have permission to do this whenever and wherever they want.

    • Papa Blue Stars

      Better yet, Yale should have rolled out some fire hoses and soaked the trespassers. Wet clothes on a day like that would have been a very effective field clearing method. The police should have warned them once then, when they didn’t leave within a few minutes, opened the nozzles. The water wouldn’t have hurt the artificial turf and would have drained quickly, enabling the event to resume.

  • heavensdoor

    Friend at game..just told me that the protestors were begging the police to arrest them. I guess that looks better on their resumes. Selfish place and wrong time. Let the kids have their game..they worked hard for this game….it’s not all about you. Your protest is fine..but stealing this moment from the kids was all wrong. They did not cause the issue.

  • waynem

    good for the students, bringing the problem right into the faces of the VERY rich alumni

    • Lily

      I wonder how these same kids get to Spring Break at the beach, electric car or plane???

  • Hubert_the_Infant

    As China is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses, shouldn’t these protesters be calling for Yale to end all ties with the People’s Republic?

    • Higherominous Bosh

      Largest CO2 Emitters, metric tonnes, per capita; % total world)
      China: 27%
      U.S.: 15%
      India: 7%
      Russia: 5%
      Japan: 3%
      Germany: 2%

      Even scariers? The trajectory:

      Change in per capita CO2 emissions 2000-2018
      U.S.: -20%
      Germany: -10%
      Japan: -2%
      Russia: +14%
      India: +90%
      China: +196% (For the math-challenged, that’s tripling.)

      Coupla fun outliers
      Iceland: +57% (?) (increase in air/marine transport)
      Venzuela: -40% (of course, chg came in 2018, because Socialism.)

      Some 2017 absolute data (metric tonnes)
       World 37,077
       China 10,877
      US 5,107
      EU 3,548
       India 2,455
       Russia 1,765
       Japan 1,321
       Germany 797

    • PierceHarlan

      Stop injecting rationality and facts into the discourse!

  • theonlyone

    Quite a selfish protest. The players from both teams worked hard for this big day and they could have impacted the game in very negative way. Such a delay could have caused players to get cold and seriously injured. I understand free speech but students going on the field at half-time could become a bit dangerous. What if the teams continued to practice at half time and there was a collision?

    • Stanley_Heller

      Spare your outrage. Google “Wesley Ogsbury”. He’s the captain of the Harvard football team and he publicly came out in support of the protest. “Sound mind, sound body”

  • RMarvel

    The world portrayed in the movie Idiocracy is taking shape all around us. If these are the brightest students we have, there’s going to be a whole of us that will not survive the coming darkness.

    • Be

      The idiots are you Trumpets.

  • legist16

    “this is what democracy looks like”

    No, it would have resembled democracy only if a poll had been taken of everyone at the Bowl regarding whether they would prefer to see The Game continue or watch the protesters, and only if a majority of those at the Bowl somehow had the right to impose their views on everyone else. The quoted statement is nothing more than self-righteous arrogance,

  • jeburke

    Those responsible for organizing this demonstration badly need to learn that protests should be aimed at persuading people, not thumbing your nose at them and thereby alienating them. It helps to have an actual nexis between the nature of the protest and its goals — for example, 1960s sit-ins to protest segregation laws. Were yesterday’s protesters contending that there was some connection between The Game and climate change? Between football generally and the climate challenge. Are they saying that there can be no games, no fun, until CO2 is rolled back? If it’s just a matter of disruption for the sake of disruption, frankly, it will get them nowhere. Indeed, ticking off thousands of people who came to watch a classic game is obviously counter-productive.

    Passion can be admirable and it’s necessary sometimes. So is being smart.

  • https://www.quora.com/profile/James-Herms James Herms

    An accounting student testifies about that Puerto Rican debt:

    I am a senior majoring in accounting at the University of Puerto Rico. My presentation today is to advocate for the Amendments to PROMESA Act … on behalf of [UPR’s] 53,000 students…. If the [Financial Oversight and Management Board’s] projected cuts are implemented, UPR has a high probability of closing most campuses….
    The University has been adopting multiple measures to continue providing quality education.… Some offices that used to be operated by a full staff of administrative personnel are now being run by one or two work-study students.

    Statement of Lyvan Buntin-Rivera, Student Representative, University of Puerto Rico, Amendments to Puerto Rico Oversight Management and Economic Stability Act of 2019: Hearing Before the H. Comm. on Nat. Res., 116th Cong. (Oct. 30, 2019).

  • Stanley_Heller

    Congratulations to those who took part in this act of civil disobedience. You acted in the finest traditions of Yale and the U.S.

    Please also pay attention to an imminent badly mistaken project that could start at any time in northeastern CT. It’s the building of a fracked gas powered electricity plant that would by itself pump out two million tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year. All the major permits have been issued for this monstrosity and only Governor Lamont can stop it at this time. Whether you’re from CT or not please write to him and get groups to publicly demonstrate against the project. After all we all share the same atmosphere. Find out more about this on FB at “No More Dirty Power in Killingly” and “Promoting Enduring Peace”.

    Stanley Heller, Branford, ’69

  • GED

    I guess so long as they’ve received their financial aid package, to a good extent courtesy of Yale investments, it’s ok for the protestors to try to undermine the financial aid package of those who follow. This “my way or the highway” approach to investment strategy ignores not only the financial operation of the university which they attend, but also the reality of the use of energy resources that fuel our society. As President Obama said about energy sources, “all of the above,” not what Yale undergrads decide is appropriate. When new energy sources become scalable and competitively affordable, they will supersede those that are less so. Go work on that science instead of taking a job at Goldman Sachs.

  • Pallas

    Hey there, college kids… you’re young enough to think you know everything but not mature enough to recognize the consequences of decisions. If you REALLY want to demonstrate “more than lip service and greenwashing”, go ahead and give up your scholarships these endowments pay for. Otherwise, you’re as sincere as the actors who take a private jet to a climate event.

  • Stanley_Heller

    It doesn’t matter how much solar and wind power we develop if we continue to burn fossil fuels and blanket the atmosphere with global warming gases. See today’s NYT coverage of the U.N. newest “bleak” report on climate. The Killingly plant, by the way, isn’t directly replacing anything. It’s another fracked gas plant being planned to be built in the poorest part of the state (what a coincidence).

  • Nancy Morris

    It would be best for all concerned if the New Haven court would impose sentences as severe as the law permits. This particular Yale Bowl stunt was anything but an exercise of free speech. It’s a symptom: Climate hysterics increasingly disregard the rights of others and democratic processes, driven on their own overheated rhetoric, swelling self importance and sanctimoniousness. Clear messages should be sent to disabuse them of their misconceived conceits. It is alarming that far too many people of all political sensibilities are insensitive to the potential for violence on all sides this development poses.

    Climate activists are demanding profound changes in the structure of all aspects of society, their rhetoric is increasingly hyperbolic and their actions increasingly reveal their contempt for democratic norms. That is extremely dangerous. For example, last week, a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion (“XR“) — an environmental group founded in 2018 to commit civil disobedience to draw awareness to the threat its founders and supporters say climate change poses to human existence — proclaimed that a genocide like the Holocaust was “happening again, on a far greater scale, and in plain sight” from climate change. It does not take a political genius to realize that people who misconceive their partisan preferences as holding back “genocide” equivalent to the Holocaust, which they believe to be ”happening again, on a far greater scale, and in plain sight” from climate change are not going to stop with disrupting football games.

    The risk is not just of violence by climate hysterics. The backlash against such people and their self-indulgent “civil disobedience” is bound to become violent if the civil authorities do not squarely restrain the excesses of these sanctimonious activists with existing law. It already has in London. In October, an activist with XR and a videographer, were kicked and beaten in a London Tube station by angry commuters during one of XR’s “civil disobedience” stunts. Anyone who thinks such things could not have happened on the Yale Bowl field should think again.

    It CAN happen here. And worse. Much worse. Does anyone rationally believe that if this stunt were pulled at a Superbowl instead of an Ivy championship that potentially serious violence is unlikely?

    Exaggeration and hysteria coupled with increasing demands for vast amorphous “change” is a sure recipe for political disaster. Climate activists should keep in mind that there was a 99.7% decline in the death toll from natural disasters since its peak in 1931. In 1931, 3.7 million people died from natural disasters. In 2018, just 11,000 did. And that decline occurred over a period when the global population quadrupled. By 2100, IPCC projects the global economy will be 300 to 500% larger than it is today. Both IPCC and the Nobel-winning Yale economist, William Nordhaus, predict that warming of 2.5°C and 4°C would reduce gross domestic product (GDP) by 2% and 5% over that same period. Does this mean we shouldn’t worry about climate change? No. But it does mean hysterical activists need to calm down, tone down their rhetoric, restrain themselves from trampling the rights of others, and work within true democratic processes.

    And it means that those who don’t should be smartly reprimanded, including those arrested in the Yale Bowl. Treating with contempt the members of these teams and the circa 50 thousand people who traveled to see them play in the cold, all to chant a hackneyed “protest” repeated by media many times every day, is a serious offense on many levels. And their total lack of contrition is an excellent reason to throw the book at them.