Fossil Free Penn is camping out “indefinitely” on College Green, demanding that Penn preserve the University City Townhomes and divest from fossil fuels.
Students began setting up tents on Sept. 14. According to College junior Jae Hargest, an FFP coordinator, they intend to remain until their demands are met. As part of the protest’s focus on supporting the townhome residents, FFP joined with the Save the UC Townhomes coalition to host a teach-in today at 3 p.m. to educate the Penn community about climate justice and gentrification.
Currently, residents of the UC Townhomes — a housing development near Penn that is primarily occupied by Black and low-income Philadelphians — face eviction on Oct. 8.
College junior and FFP coordinator Megha Neelapu said that University administrators have “tried to intimidate” the group during the encampment.
University spokesperson Ron Ozio wrote to The Daily Pennsylvanian that “students violated University policy when they erected tents on College Green and refused to comply with multiple requests to remove the tents and leave the area. Their actions also stood to disrupt planned events on College Green that had been properly reserved by other students on campus.”
Hargest told the DP that while the group plans to camp indefinitely, “it is a duty of ours to make sure that we are not interfering with other student groups by using this space, and so we want to be accommodating.”
Ozio added that students involved were referred to the Center of Community Standards and Accountability, and that the Penn administration has made an offer to meet with FFP, which was declined. CSA declined to comment.
“There is nothing new in any of the student ‘demands,’ to which the University has responded repeatedly over the years,” Ozio wrote.
In a press release today, FFP clarified its three main demands from the University: to preserve the University City Townhomes by committing funds to preserve them and meeting with residents this month, to divest Penn’s endowment from both indirect and direct fossil fuel holdings by 2025, and to pay PILOTs — payments in lieu of taxes — to public schools in Philadelphia.
“The ask from the townhomes is to pay 5 to 10 million as a symbolic amount to support affordable housing to the city so that the city can buy the block,” Hargest added.
Penn’s most recent policy change regarding fossil fuels took place in November, when administrators announced Penn would halt new commitments to private equity vehicles dedicated to investments in fossil fuel production. At the time, FFP coordinator and then-Engineering senior Ari Bortman told The Daily Pennsylvanian that this move was “not [University] divestment in any sense.”
Neelapu said that she feels the demands are “really clear,” and said that the members of FFP do not think that further meetings with the administration will be productive, but instead “a waste of time.”
“We’ve tried to go through the correct, normal channels. We’ve submitted divestment proposals, we’ve done town halls, things like that,” she said. “When we became more of a direct action group, that was as a last resort because we were like, ‘Okay, clearly, you know, all admin listens to is stuff like this.’”
In April, FFP camped out on College Green for six days to call on the University to divest and support climate justice. Penn Police had asked for the Penn IDs of several organizers and the Office of Student Conduct held a meeting to discuss the incident.
“We are here with a larger focus, because our goal right now is to camp here until we get our demands met,” College sophomore and FFP coordinator Eug Xu said.
FFP connected its three demands in the press release by stating that they all relate to climate justice, adding that the encampment intends to occupy campus until the University commits to preserving the townhomes.
“The people who are most affected by climate change are people who are going to be displaced because of things like gentrification,” said Xu.
Students have previously participated in and helped lead protests against the UC Townhomes residents’ looming eviction. Additionally, UC Townhomes residents and supporters interrupted Convocation during Penn President Liz Magill’s first speech to students on Aug. 29.
“We are a climate justice organization, which means that we don’t think that climate change is a far-off distant possibility where everyone dies and is treated equally in that sense,” Xu said. “We believe that climate change is hurting people now. And that there needs to be action now to stop climate change and to diminish the effects of climate change on the people that it hurts the most.”