House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) cancellation wasn’t the only surprise for Penn Friday.
Protesters entered Huntsman Hall on Oct. 21 at about 4 p.m., despite plans between activist group organizers and the Division of Public Safety to stay out of the building.
“That was not part of the plan,” said Anne Gemmell, Fight for Philly political director and liaison to Friday’s protest coalition. “Although there was one representative from Occupy Philly on the call with the collation to plan the rally, there was never, never any discussion of trying to go inside of the building.”
Protesters entered the building through the adjacent Au Bon Pain, which remained open to allow the retail space to continue to operate, according to Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush. “Unfortunately some people took advantage of that and used that entrance to come into Huntsman,” she said, adding that it “would not have been our preference.”
The protesters remained inside for about half an hour and left on their own accord. To avoid a second entrance into Huntsman, DPS and security officers limited access to the building to PennCard holders at about 4:30 p.m., earlier than the usual 7 p.m. restriction.
Some students believed that by leaving Locust Walk and entering Huntsman Hall, protesters overstepped their boundaries and disrupted classes and work.
“It was inappropriate to target an educational institution and claim that said institution is producing future Wall Street villains, which is at least illogical, at most offensive,” Wharton sophomore Lisa Xu said, who saw the protest in passing.
“For some people, that was the most exciting part. For others, it was the most inappropriate part,” Gemmell explained.
In the future, DPS plans on speaking with groups of protesters to ensure there is a balance of freedom of speech, safety and minimal disruption of classes.
“Our preference [for the future] would be that freedom of speech can reign on Locust Walk quite nicely,” Rush said.
Gemmell and Rush decided before the protests that occupying Locust Walk would both be safer and less disruptive to Cantor’s planned event and not interfere with any traffic flow. The protest was originally planned for Walnut Street, which protesters would not need to receive permission to assemble on since it is a public street.
“Our rally did not want to seem like we wanted to disrupt free speech,” Gemmell said. “We purposely ask for the other side of the building so that our message was not construed as being heckling or disruptive.”
Despite this, Cantor did not appear for the Wharton Leadership Lecture, in part due to the appearance of protesters. Cantor spoke at Harvard University on Feb. 24, and faced students who “stood in solidarity, waving banners and chanting,” some of which eventually walked out of the event in protest, according to the Harvard Crimson.
“The series is typically open to the general public, and that is how [Cantor’s] event was billed,” Penn spokesman Ron Ozio said. He declined to comment further.
This article has been updated from its original version to include the correct spelling of Wharton sophomore Lisa Xu’s name.
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