The scoreboard had Harvard leading 15-3. My friends and I hastily entered the stadium, which was scattered with crimson and blue jerseys, close to halftime. Even as a visiting Penn student, I was swept up in the excitement of this year's Harvard-Yale game.
With over 40,000 students and alumni in the stadium, and more watching on television, the 136th annual game was the perfect occasion for climate activists to disrupt. Following the halftime performance, around 70 Harvard and Yale students settled at the 50 yard line, and refused to leave. The crowd went noticeably silent as signs that read, “Nobody Wins: Yale & Harvard Are Complicit in Climate Injustice,” and “This is an Emergency” spread across the crowd.
At a time of rivalry, the students at Harvard and Yale formed a coalition to call for their universities to divest their investments in fossil fuels.
Seeing student organizing in action was nothing new to me as a Penn student. Just weeks ago, Penn’s own Fossil Free Penn organization shut down a Board of Trustees meeting advocating for divestment and a town hall. And only a few weeks before that, student protesters shut down a Perry World House event hosting former ICE Director Thomas Homan.
For some, these disruptive protests bring uneasiness. Amid the demonstration, a loud bellow erupted from the stadium speaker, “Please, as a courtesy to the players, we ask that you leave the field.” Standing among the crowd, I heard similar sentiments. Onlookers began boo-ing protesters for stalling the game. A few criticized them for not supporting the players in a crucial match.
These reactions were shocking. As I watched these students come together for a cause that should ignite us all, risking citation and arrest, I felt immense pride. Disruptive protests are never pretty. They are messy, inconvenient, and uncomfortable. They are not “courteous.” They are a last resort — a rallying attempt to demand action when diplomatic channels have failed. Along with Penn, Harvard and Yale’s massive endowments, totalling billions of dollars, are invested in the fossil fuel industry. This was bigger than a football game.
At a baseline, those in the crowds have acquired more educational privilege than most of the world. More than anyone, they should feel an obligation to be the change makers many of them promised to be when entering these elite institutions.
Student organizing has proven to be a powerful motor for change. Spanning from protests like the Harvard University living wage sit-ins in the early 2000s, to the more recent Howard University occupation for school improvements, student activists have demanded action from administrators and won. Additionally, pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing and the March for Our Lives rallies in Washington should inspire us to push the boundaries for political action beyond our campus.
As I ran to join the crowds chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!” on the sidelines of the field, I knew this was the kind of freedom my parents immigrated to this country for. This is our future on the line. We do not have the luxury of waiting to be the leaders of tomorrow. We must act now. And if we are silenced, we must be disruptive. Yale may have won the game, but the real win happened when students came together and demanded to be seen.
UROOBA ABID is a College junior from Long Island, N.Y. studying International Relations. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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