Over 100 protestors interrupted Penn President Liz Magill minutes into her first-ever Convocation speech, bringing the ceremony to an abrupt end.
As Magill spoke on the incoming class' diversity, a group of protestors — including members of the Class of 2026 — stood up and began chanting “Save UC Townhomes!” and “Stop Penn-trification!" The Coalition to Save the UC Townhomes, a group of residents protesting the sale of 70 units of affordable housing, organized the demonstration in an effort to bring awareness to the local residents who are scheduled to be evicted on Oct. 8.
A larger procession of protestors streamed in from Locust Walk minutes after the initial interruption, carrying large signs and posters and causing Magill to fully pause her speech. Magill asked the incoming students if she could continue speaking and was met with raucous applause from the crowd, though the protestors continued chanting.
Magill then sat down, and Chaplain Charles Howard took over briefly, telling the protestors that he understood the issue's significance, but that the ceremony was intended to celebrate the Class of 2026.
Magill then resumed her speech, and she spoke about the importance of "productive disagreement."
"Many of our breakthroughs are the result of decades of productive disagreement with prevailing orthodoxies. A community of diverse individuals can't live together unless they can listen to and learn from one another," Magill said. “Democracy cannot work unless people can live together, learn from one another and, paradoxically, disagree."
In an email sent to The Daily Pennsylvanian on Aug. 30, University spokesperson Ron Ozio wrote that Magill's prepared remarks were originally set to touch on "productive disagreement and the value of learning across differences." He added that Magill delivered the core message of her prepared remarks in the shortened speech, and that the full remarks were distributed to the Penn community.
"Penn is a place where productive debate and dialogue flourishes among people with different views, and our community is stronger for it," Ozio wrote.
While some first years took part in the protest, others voiced initial confusion about Magill's speech being interrupted. Others, uninvolved in the demonstration's organizing, voiced their support for the protestors' efforts.
College first year Jordan Severino said that though he was initially shocked by the protest, he also understood and supported the demonstration, given his knowledge on the issue of affordable housing.
“As a freshman, it is hard that our Convocation was sort of stripped away from us, however, I have to support the protest overall because of the importance of this issue. People’s lives are at stake and housing really is a human right, so this had to be done," Severino said.
Wharton first year Noah Budnitz said that he was unaware of the issue before the protest and was impressed that the first-year students who participated in the protests had the guts to do so.
After Magill's speech concluded, protestors continued their demonstration on College Green. Protestors said that they did not interrupt Convocation to spite the new class, but rather to educate the students on Penn’s role in the residents’ displacement.
“Welcome to the Penn community. We accept you. We love you,” a protestor said over a megaphone to the crowd. “Many of you, like us, have been dispossessed. Many of you, like us, may come from low-income areas. It is important to know what institutions like this do to us when we are not paying them to accept us. It is important to know what this institution has been doing for decades.”
A dessert reception followed Convocation at 8:15 p.m. in Penn Commons and Houston Hall, which Magill attended and at which she spoke to students.
Senior reporters Jared Mitovich and Matteo Busterna and contributing reporter Allyson Nelson contributed reporting.