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Student protesters demonstrate outside Penn Police's headquarters after 19 protestors were arrested at the Homecoming game on Oct. 22, 2022. Credit: Jesse Zhang

Students involved with Fossil Free Penn who recently stormed Franklin Field during the Homecoming football game have faced threats of suspension from student groups for their participation in the protest.

On Oct. 22, nearly 75 students rushed Franklin Field during the football game in support of FFP’s demands for Penn: a public commitment towards preserving the University City Townhomes, complete divestment from fossil fuels, and making payments in lieu of taxes – or PILOTs – to Philadelphia public schools. After an hour on the field, 19 students were detained by police officers. 

Until recently, College sophomore and FFP coordinator Sabirah Mahmud played the clarinet for Penn Band – which represents the University at various athletic games and other campus events. However, since her involvement in the Homecoming demonstration, she has received communication from Penn Band that her membership status is now “under review.”

Mahmud said that she received an email from the president of Penn Band on Oct. 24 stating that has been suspended because of her “involvement and the disruptive activities during the homecoming game.” She had been on the field with the band for the halftime show before handing off her instrument to a peer to join FFP in their protest. She said that she is prohibited from attending any practices or performances with the Penn Band until further notice. 

College junior and FFP coordinator Katie Francis, a piccolo player in Penn Band, was one of the 19 students arrested and escorted off the field after delaying the game for an hour. Like Mahmud, she was told via email that her participation in the protest has put her membership status under review. 

Penn Band's director, Greer Cheeseman, declined a request for comment, citing that he wanted to "honor the integrity of the membership review process."

Mahmud clarified that she believes this pushback is not necessarily coming from members of the Penn Band, but from Penn administrators, since the band is expected to represent the University at various events.

“The band obviously is a very loved group by the Penn admin — we perform at literally all of the events: inauguration, convocation, commencement, Hey Day, every single big Penn event we’re invited to and accommodated for,” Mahmud said. “And because of that, the Penn administration has a lot of control.”

In an emailed statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian, University spokesperson Ron Ozio said that "this is not something that the Administration is involved with and is a decision by the band."

Previously, the University released a statement saying that “any student believed to have been involved in disrupting and delaying today’s football game will be referred to the Office of Community Standards and Accountability,” according to an email sent to the DP by Ozio.

While Mahmud and Francis were prepared to face potential legal and disciplinary consequences for the demonstration prior to participating, other students said that they decided against joining the protest for fear of similar extracurricular suspensions.

One Penn athlete, who requested anonymity fearing retribution from their team, said that they intended to support FFP on the field until they began to hear conversations from their teammates and coaches implying that they could face suspension from the team if they participated.

"There was a feeling on the team that the protests didn't represent Penn in the way that they wanted us to be represented," the Penn athlete said. "Participation was discouraged by both the team members and the coaching staff as well."

According to a statement from the Division of Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics, "The university-wide Center for Community Standards and Accountability conducts a confidential process intended to resolve violations of the Code of Student Conduct. Penn Athletics is not part of that process and does not determine any of its potential outcomes."

Mahmud, a Philadelphia native, said that she had been involved in climate advocacy and community activism prior to attending Penn, and that that involvement was an integral part of her application to the University. She added that, as a former Penn Alexander student, she had also been a member of the Penn Band since her freshman year of high school.

“You have to either choose holding people accountable or participating in Penn society, which discourages Penn students from [speaking] up on their larger Philadelphia communities,” she said.

Mahmud said that she believes the University's response to these protests has set the tone for student activism on campus under President Liz Magill's tenure at Penn.

"This new administration has only welcomed activism and community engagement with disciplinary action," she said.

Francis agreed with this assessment, adding that she feels it is essential for Penn students and staff to be actively aware of their place in the larger Philadelphia community and to remain open to uncomfortable conversations.

"It seems like Penn wants to protect the institution more than the students that make up that institution," Francis said.

Francis said that while the group’s encampment on College Green has since been taken down, FFP aims to use the momentum it has gained to remain active in coming semesters.

"We are not going to stop with our demands and trying to get those met,” Francis said.