Three activist groups on campus co-hosted a rally on Wednesday before the University Council meeting and Open Forum that afternoon to protest Penn's alleged mistreatment of student activists.
Around 25 students and West Philadelphia community members attended the rally and press conference on College Green organized by Fossil Free Penn, Police Free Penn, and the Coalition to Save the UC Townhomes.
During the rally, FFP organizers publicized their three new demands for the University: dropping 35 current investigations by Penn’s disciplinary office for student protestors, halting the practice of calling peaceful protesters to participate in disciplinary processes in the future, and starting a transparent review process of the University’s Open Expression policies.
College senior Andrés Gonzalez-Bonillas said that he was placed on disciplinary probation by the University after his alleged participation in the protest during Convocation this year. He said that he condemns the University for prioritizing punishing student organizers instead of listening to their demands.
“They want us to stop, and we won’t,” Gonzalez-Bonillas said. “We won’t [stop] because we know that what we are doing is just.”
Earlier this semester, 19 protestors affiliated with FFP were arrested after 70 students stormed Franklin Field during Penn’s Homecoming football game. This interruption came after FFP’s 39-day encampment that demanded that Penn take action to preserve the University City Townhomes, completely divest from fossil fuels, and pay PILOTs to local schools.
FFP has been circulating a petition with over 900 signatures that demands the University to “stop punishing peaceful protestors.”
After the rally, many participants attended the University Council’s Open Forum, where four student speakers represented the demands of FFP, discussing the University’s climate policy and the administration’s response to student protestors in recent months.
University Council Secretary and Associate Vice President of the University Secretary Office Lizann Boyle Rode announced that President Liz Magill would not be in attendance due to illness.
Student speakers expressed their regret that Magill was not present during their statements, and many of them requested to meet with her to discuss the issues at another time. They advocated for the preservation of the UC Townhomes, protection of student protestors’ rights, and for Penn to pay PILOTs.
Boyle Rode began the University Council meeting with a report of new business topics from the council’s Oct. 26 meeting, in which she directly addressed the demands of student activist groups like FFP and their recent methods of protest, clarifying the University's fossil fuel investments.
“Penn does not directly hold investments in fossil fuels and we do not hold any investments in the two hundred companies with the largest embedded carbon content in their energy reserves,” Boyle Rode said at the meeting.
On Wednesday morning, Penn published a statement that explained that it no longer holds direct investments in fossil fuel companies. Fossil Free Penn coordinators previously told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the policies outlined in the University's statement are not enough to be considered complete divestment – as it does not address Penn's indirect fossil fuel investments.
"While both of these policies sound nice on paper, they fail to encapsulate the majority of Penn’s investments in fossil fuels," FFP coordinators College junior Jae Hargest and College sophomore Eug Xu wrote.
Later during the meeting, Senior Vice President for Facilities and Real Estate Services Anne Papageorge presented the Climate and Sustainability Action Plan 3.0, detailing the University’s progress in reducing carbon emissions — which she said were reduced by 45% in the 2022 fiscal year compared to a 2009 baseline — and other sustainability goals.
During the Open Forum – an opportunity for any member of the University community to direct questions to administrators on the council – second-year Graduate School of Nursing student Valerie Bai called on Penn to intervene in the eviction of families living in the UC Townhomes, explaining that the health of medical patients “is absolutely contingent upon stable housing and the ability to easily access a safe home.”
Bai also called on Penn to help preserve and create affordable housing and increase investments by hospitals in supportive housing programs.
“Penn Medicine’s very own 2022 Community Health Needs Assessment identifies housing as one of the most important factors for wellness,” she said.
Later during the open forum portion, College and Engineering senior Emma Glasser spoke in front of the committee and called Penn administrators' response to student-led protests a “campaign of suppression of campus activism.”
“We know you’re not happy about these protests. You have called them ‘unreasonable,’” Glasser said. “But I implore you to consider if you were losing your home, if your children were sick from lead and asbestos, would you consider any of these actions unreasonable?”