FFP
Photo: Julio Sosa

After various failed attempts to get Penn to divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies, Fossil Free Penn is changing its protest tactics to adhere to University regulations.

Starting Oct. 30, FFP has been collaborating with other student groups to host a week-long Divestfest on College Green that aims to promote student involvement and environmental awareness. 

On Oct. 30 and 31, the groups organized events throughout the day on College Green to garner student attention, and on Nov. 2, a panel discussion on divestment and climate change was held in Huntsman Hall. The Divestfest will culminate in a silent protest at a University Board of Trustees meeting this Friday. 

Earlier this semester, the group held a similar protest at a Trustees meeting where they stood silently along the wall across from Penn President Amy Gutmann, armed with computer printouts that read slogans such as “Divest Now” and “Stop Funding Climate Change."

Photo: Kelly Heinzerling

FFP Campaign Co-Coordinator and College junior Zach Rissman said for Divestfest, the group wanted to collaborate with other clubs to create "a unified student front in support of divestment."

"We're trying to involve students from all across campus life to really show trustees that this is an issue that really affects all students," Rissman said.

Jacob Hershman, FFP outreach coordinator and a College sophomore, said the group wants to "establish a fanbase" larger than the roughly 15 members that consistently attend their general body meetings. 

"It's easy to get people to become aware and sympathetic to the plight that FFP presents, but it's a lot harder to get people to take time out of their day to support the group," he said. 

Close to 90 percent of student respondents want Penn to divest from fossil fuels, according to a 2015 campus referendum, but that level of support has not translated into more FFP members.  

To change this, Hershman said FFP will prioritize an educational approach this week to inform students on the harms of fossil fuel extraction, refinement, distribution and combustion.  

Following a contentious sit-in last March where members of FFP were "written up" by administrators for refusing to leave College Hall after hours, Rissman said this semester the group is "more focused on education than on inflammation." 

"Throughout the entire sit-in, administrators kept saying to us, 'The reason we can't have conversations with you is because you're breaking the rules,'" Rissman said. "We want dialogue, we want open discourse between us and administrators. An open discussion is more important than disrupting University functions."

But coordinating with the University to organize this week's event came with its own difficulties. 

The group's initial plans included setting up a tent community on College Green throughout the week so that students could congregate to learn about the cause, but administrators rejected various parts of this proposal. 

An Office of Student Affairs policy prevents structures from remaining on College Green for more than three days and two nights. FFP offered to set up and break down their tents every night, but OSA had other concerns. 

"I asked the student organizers to seriously consider how tents would contribute to the event’s stated mission of environmental education and community building," OSA Executive Director Katie Bonner wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian. "The University has long held that overnight outdoor activity presents risks to our students and community."

Rissman added that the administrators were worried that students would use the tents for sleeping and drinking, even though FFP created a rotating sleep schedule to ensure at least two people would be awake at all times throughout the night. 

FFP members were eventually informed that College Green would be unavailable beginning on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, due to workers setting up for Homecoming events. 

"This was an unfortunate administrative oversight which impacted FFP’s space request," Bonner said. "I eventually learned that College Green would only be available the Sunday and Monday of the original Fossil Free Penn request."

Despite the setback, members did not appear willing to return to the group's past practice of holding events outside the bounds of University policy.

"We're not making much headway," Hershman said. "There's no point in continuing to effectively whine and petulantly place ourselves in the middle of College Hall and persist in something that isn't working."

"So we need to adapt to the circumstances presented to us," he said. 

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