The LOVE sculpture presumably serves as a bright red reminder to those of us walking up and down Locust walk that we live in an open-handed, compassionate place that cares about our livelihood and future.
In this same vein, President Amy Gutmann began the Nov. 9 University Board of Trustees meeting by praising Penn’s determination to find Love in response to two recent passings of an alumnus and a former trustee. The insurmountable Love that the University absorbed and dispersed these past few weeks, Gutmann declared, was Penn acting “at its best.”
When hearing these words, I couldn’t help but reflect back on the last statement made in the assigned summer reading, “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” for Penn’s freshman class: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”
It is through this staunch commitment to Love, and all the moral obligations attached to that commitment, that I so sourly draw your attention to the major setbacks that Fossil Free Penn has experienced these past few weeks and its resulting silent demonstration at this very same meeting.
A few weeks before the Trustees’ meeting, the Steering Committee refused to formally review FFP’s new proposal for divestment from the coal and tar sand industries — a decision cruelly declared just after the United Nations released their Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which warned that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius requires a decrease in fossil fuel investment by a quarter by the time I am 38 years old.
This is not Love.
As the Trustees silently flooded into a lavishly decorated room at the Inn at Penn last Friday, so too did 60 students armed with posters. Squeezed into the back corner, we were separated from the long table of Trustees by a stanchion. It was a measure of security that I rather ruthlessly interpreted to be the Board’s attempt to seem “untouchable,” likening themselves to an original masterpiece on display and worthy of the same “No Touching” rules.
While listening to proud announcements of distinguished faculty research on tobacco advertisements (despite Penn’s investments in tobacco companies), a newly nominated dean dedicating his practice to social justice, an alumna’s environmental stewardship, and countless other accomplishments, I couldn’t help but find the whole jamboree a matter of pure irony laden with contradictions. The accusatory words on our posters, reminding the Trustees that they are actively “funding climate change,” violently contrasted the celebration of Penn’s many achievements in the realm of social and environmental justice. And as much as I wish it untrue, the extent to which Penn embodies any dedication and commitment to Love is starkly diminished when considering the University’s financial motives that so fiercely compromise its own students’ futures.
Here is where I’ll call attention to what went unspoken and unquestioned at the meeting.
First and foremost, Penn’s billion-dollar endowment continues to reap returns from investments in the fossil fuel industry, and is thus funding a primary driver of climate change — no questions asked. Second, the privilege granted to Penn students, whether it be through our scholarship, our University-funded research, or our study-abroad experiences, comes at a cost to the planet’s natural resources without our consent.
Indulging in the opportunity to finally release a week’s worth of repressed anger and anxious confusion, I begged for eye contact with a trustee to hold responsible. A trustee who, when their eyes met mine, would cowardly withdraw in fear. And in this moment, I stood appalled — no longer at the Board of Trustees, but at myself.
This is not Love.
Seated behind crystal bowls with glinting candy wrappers, it seems the matter of climate change is simply too distant to care about, let alone incite a Trustee to boldly acknowledge our invading presence in the midst of such a celebratory meeting. With the current trend of the trustees’ blatant disregard for student concerns, and the rejection of our second divestment proposal so early in the evaluation process, it seems that climate change doesn’t quite reach the top of the Board’s agenda.
So each time you walk past the LOVE statue, question whether Penn truly embraces this commitment.
Because in light of Fossil Free Penn’s struggles these past few weeks, it seems this monument has lost a bit of its spark.
MAEVE MASTERSON is a College freshman from Chicago studying environmental studies. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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