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After a major decision by the Board of Trustees not to divest from fossil fuel industries, students and faculty on campus came together to demonstrate against this verdict.

Credit: Zach Sheldon

A small group of students and faculty, carrying signs and posters, protested the recent Board of Trustees decision not to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

The protest, organized by Fossil Free Penn, sought to raise awareness of the recent decision, which came after a referendum — in which over 30 percent of undergraduates participated, and almost 90 percent voted in favor of divestment — as well as a letter signed by over 100 faculty members urging divestment.

For many protestors, the decision was disappointing.

“I feel that the decision was very unjust,” College senior and Fossil Free Penn member Peter Thacher said. “It not only rejected the mandate that Penn received from the community through the referendum and the faculty letter, the decision also makes the statement that people who are vulnerable to climate change and exploited by the fossil fuel industry are disposable.”

One common topic throughout the protest was the way the Board of Trustees handled the decision. Protestors claimed the decision making process was opaque.

There were other issues the protestors had with the process, including potential biases from the ad-hoc committee.

“There was no transparency,” College senior and Fossil Free Penn member Gavi Reiter said. “We were under the impression that we were going to be involved in the process.”

Other protestors criticized the letter sent out by Board of Trustees Chairman David Cohen, who said the “moral evil” tied to fossil fuels does not reach levels “on par with apartheid and genocide.”

One protestor, German professor Simon Richter, suggested that there should be a university-wide debate over the effect climate change has on society.

“I think there should be a discussion on campus on the category of ‘moral evil’ and what exactly the Trustees understand by that, and whether that is an appropriate measure,” he said. “There are all sorts of highly-trained experts who the University invests in, and I think it would be a great idea if the University would consult them.”

Another common topic was one focused on in previous Fossil Free Penn protests: the intersection of environmental and social justice. Some members, including Thacher, emphasized the effect climate change had on marginalized groups. Reiter focused on the effect climate change has on women.

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