At the University Council Open Forum on Wednesday, members of Fossil Free Penn staged a demonstration to speak out against the Penn administration’s continued investment in the fossil fuel industry.
College sophomore and Co-Coordinator of Fossil Free Penn Zach Rissman spoke at the open forum protesting the administration’s decision to reject a divestment proposal put forth by the group in October 2015, while other members of the group stood in silence, wearing surgeon’s masks with various phrases like “Oil Kills.”
Members of the group said the decision to wear surgeon’s masks was meant to symbolize the impacts of climate change in areas where people actually wear masks due to pollution. They said they also hoped to convey that Fossil Free Penn feels its voice has not been taken seriously by the Penn administration.
“[The demonstration]’s supporting and providing more emphasis to the student voice, which in the case of Fossil Free Penn has not been suppressed, but I think has not been taken as seriously as the Penn administration claims,” College freshman Jacob Hershman said.
Wharton freshman and Media Chair of Fossil Free Penn Megan Kyne added that she felt the off-the-record meetings between the club and the administration were not productive and did not allow for open communication between the two groups.
“We have meetings with them, but they’re not allowing them to be public,” Kyne said. “It’s sort of them telling us how it is and not responding and not communicating.”
Fossil Free Penn’s primary grievance against the administration stems from the administration’s rejection of its divestment proposal, which was written following a referendum held by the group in February 2015 in which 87.8 percent of students who responded voted in favor of Penn’s divestment from fossil fuel holdings.
The administration convened an ad-hoc committee to consider the proposal. The ultimate decision was to reject the document while promising greater investment in renewable energy research and campus sustainability.
“The Ad Hoc Committee did not utilize facts and evidence to support their decision in their report , instead making their claim in just 19 words, 120 characters,” Rissman said in his speech.
Rissman added that he felt that the administration’s refusal to to accept the divestment proposal was due to its fear of taking a potentially controversial stand.
“I believe it was out of fear,” Rissman said. “It’s a fear of making a statement and that’s extremely unfortunate because silence is a statement.”
Hershman said he believes the fossil fuel industry was not the best use of the Board of Trustees’ endowment funds.
“The biggest step that the university can take in becoming a paragon of university sustainability would be divestment,” Hershman said. “Fiduciary responsibility can still be fulfilled while divesting their holdings in fossil fuels and reinvesting their holdings in other profitable ventures.”
Rissman concluded his speech by inviting the Board of Trustees to send members to the group’s open forum on divestment during the week of March 13. The group also hopes that its speech at the open forum, which several student group leaders attend, will further improve Fossil Free Penn’s presence on campus as well as garner greater student support for the group and its mission.
“It’s a really unique opportunity to really communicate your message to leaders of students,” Rissman said. “In order for divestment to exist and succeed we need overwhelming student support.”
Kyne added that the group’s demonstration was part of a greater initiative to encourage activism among students rather than just working towards administrative change.
“It’s part of a greater movement that we’re trying to get student support for and trying to create a social movement,” Kyne said. “We’re doing everything on our part to induce administrative change, but we need the social support and we need the student body to care.”