Yalies have pushed for a more socially responsible endowment. Here’s why.
From classroom walkouts to a halftime sit-in, here are the ways Yale students have campaigned for what they call "endowment justice."
During the annual Harvard-Yale game, hundreds of students and alumni from both schools stormed the field during halftime, demanding that their schools divest from fossil fuels and Puerto Rican debt.
The protest, jointly organized by Yale’s Endowment Justice Coalition and Divest Harvard, led to misdemeanor summons for dozens of the protestors, charges that were ultimately dropped after each student completed five hours of community service. One in a series of sit-ins and walkouts to protest Yale’s investments, the demonstration catapulted the cause to the national spotlight.
“Students are tired of Harvard and Yale profiting off of climate destruction and neocolonial investments in Puerto Rico’s debt,” a press release from Divest Harvard 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.”
According to a report, the Yale Investments Office decided in 2014 and 2016 to retain its holdings in fossil fuel companies — but encouraged its investment managers to consider environmental costs. When the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, composed of students, faculty, staff and alumni, addressed the issue of Puerto Rican debt, they found that divestment “is not warranted when an investor is abiding by the applicable legal framework.”
The Harvard-Yale protest was not the first time that students have demonstrated against Yale’s investments. In December 2018, for example, Yale’s Endowment Justice Coalition organized a five-hour sit-in in the lobby of the Yale Investments Office. 43 students, two graduate students, two New Haven residents and one faculty member — history professor Jennifer Klein — were ultimately arrested at the sit-in, which urged the University to cancel their holdings in Puerto Rico’s debt and divest from the fossil fuel industry.
And in March 2019, the YPD cited 17 students for trespassing after a two-hour sit-in in the lobby of the Yale Investments Office. The demonstration, also organized by the Endowment Justice Coalition, had similar demands as the December sit-in: divestment from fossil fuels and Puerto Rican debt.
“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 Mary Whelan ’19, 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.”
Last fall, activist groups on campus organized a Yale-wide classroom walkout to condemn the University’s continued investments in fossil fuels and Puerto Rican debt. Organizers estimated that around 1,000-1,500 people participated in the protest, which also urged attendees to sign a pledge indicating that they refuse to donate to Yale until the Endowment Justice Coalition’s demands are met.
In an interview with the News after the walkout, Nora Heaphy ’21, an organizer of the protest, alluded to “escalated, direct action through the semester.” While the specifics of those actions were still in development at that time, the Harvard-Yale protests were proof of one such move.
The Harvard-Yale sit-ins received national support from presidential candidates including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro, as well as from other students, such as Harvard football team captain Wesley Ogsbury, who filmed a video statement in support of the protests.
But the protests also drew criticism, especially from fans in the Yale Bowl. As the game continued to be delayed due to the demonstration, many fans yelled profanities at the students and cheered when demonstrators were forcibly removed from the field.
Organizers could not confirm whether there would be more protests in the future, but their press release seems to suggest as much: “this action is only the beginning,” it states.
Yale and Harvard began their annual Game tradition in 1875.
Madison Hahamy | email@example.com