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Chanting and singing, the Fossil Free Penn protesters demanded a divestment town hall with Penn President Amy Gutmann, Board of Trustees Chair David Cohen, and Penn's Chief Investment Officer Peter Ammon.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

A protest by about 100 members of Fossil Free Penn shut down a Board of Trustees meeting Friday that took place at the Inn at Penn. 

Chanting and singing, the protesters demanded a divestment town hall meeting with Penn President Amy Gutmann, Board of Trustees Chair David Cohen, and Penn Chief Investment Officer Peter Ammon. The board meeting, which was scheduled to last an hour, ended about 20 minutes early after the protesters drowned out the trustees.

“The impact of the fossil fuel industry is genocidal,” students chanted. They also repeatedly sang, "Which side are you on?”

Board members shouted their agreement to the meeting's resolutions over the noise from the protesters in an attempt to keep the meeting on track. Penn's Open Expression Observers asked the protesters to cease chanting but soon gave up and stood watch over the students in silence. 

Members of the public are not allowed to “interrupt, interfere with, obstruct, disturb, or disrupt the conduct” of the open meeting, according to the meeting schedule webpage.

“Today, our strong unified voice exposed Penn for its merciless apathy and ignorance in face of the climate crisis," Fossil Free Penn Campaign Coordinator and College sophomore Maeve Masterson said. "We are disrupting Penn’s status quo, and this is just the beginning." 

Several members of the board, including Gutmann and Cohen, filed out of the back entrance to the Inn at Penn. The protesters flooded the lobby and sidewalk outside the main entrance. Seven members of the board did not respond to requests for comment from a Daily Pennsylvanian reporter upon exiting the building.

When asked why Penn has maintained its fossil fuel investment, one Board of Trustees member who declined to provide his name said, “I’m in the fossil fuel industry.”

According to an emailed statement from Penn spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy, the Board of Trustees addressed all of its business, passing all of the resolutions on its agenda, which included the renaming of Penn Law School to the Carey Law School following a $125 million donation by the W.P. Carey Foundation.

Resolutions passed in the five minutes before students started singing included a motion for the approval of the minutes and a memorial for the late Philadelphia Phillies chairman and former Trustee David Montgomery, followed by a moment of silence honoring his death.

The demand for a town hall began this semester in response to Penn’s rejection of multiple divestment proposals in past years. Since Sept. 27, FFP has held weekly sit-ins every Friday in College Hall.

Congregating at the Button sculpture Friday morning, students prepared for the disruptive protests by going over safety precautions such as not resisting arrest. They also pinned orange felt squares to their chest with safety pins, which is a universal symbol of the the divestment movement, and carried signs reading “we demand a town hall.”

Credit: Kylie Cooper

The protesters called the University’s Climate Action plan “inaction,” and sang a refrain asking “Which side are you on?” 

“This is in no way over,” Fossil Free Penn Campaign Coordinator and College sophomore Katie Collier said to approximately 100 students congregated outside of the Inn at Penn immediately following the meeting.

"We need to continue to raise pressure on the Board of Trustees, on Amy Gutmann, on David Cohen, and Peter Ammon to divest our $14.7 billion endowment from the fossil fuel industry," Collier added.