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Community members from Fossil Free Penn and the Coalition to Save the UC Townhomes rally outside Huntsman Hall after interrupting President Liz Magill in the Penn Alumni Class Presidents Event on Feb. 10. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Attendees of the Penn Alumni Class Presidents Event told The Daily Pennsylvanian that they felt “alienated” and “uninformed” by the interruption from protestors at the event.

On Feb. 10, Fossil Free Penn protestors — along with students and community members from the Coalition to Save the UC Townhomes — interrupted President Liz Magill during the reception for several minutes. Following the incident, two alumni spoke to the DP about their frustration with the method used by FFP to inform the attendees of the issue. Class Board presidents said that protestors chose both the wrong occasion and the wrong tactics.

The event marked the attendees’ first chance to speak with the new University president. The tactics of the protestors, which involved a bullhorn and repeating slogans, meant that “there was not an enlightenment about specifics,” Gregory Suss, class board president of the Class of 1975, told the DP.

Suss said that he felt that the occasion itself made alumni less receptive than they might otherwise have been. Still, having earlier that day been given a presentation on University real estate plans, he thought that the protestors may have been able to take advantage of curiosity among alumni.

Senior Class Board president Derek Nhieu said that some of the attendees were “receptive,” yet the alumni reactions were a “mixed bag.” 

“Overall, I think a lot of people wanted to be receptive. They just didn't really know how, or they didn't think it was the right time or place,” Nhieu said. 

One of the demonstrators, College senior Gigi Varlotta, had previously called alumni as “angry” and alleged that one person pushed Varlotta's bullhorn into their face. One alum, who requested anonymity due to fear of retaliation from students, alleged that this incident did not occur.

The alumni also pointed to an incident in which an alumna and current professor, recognizing Varlotta as a former student of hers, repeatedly offered them the microphone to explain the issue to attendees. Nhieu said that Varlotta’s refusal to switch from bullhorn to microphone was the most “shocking moment of the whole night."

"When admin refuses to meet any of our demands, we will continue to disrupt and protest. We are not interested in these ideas surrounding what good protest is or is not," Varlotta wrote in a statement to the DP, citing what they said was a lack of University response to other tactics. "Until Penn acts on its role in this displacement, we will protest by any means necessary."

Varlotta told the DP that the main target of the protest was Magill, but they said it was an "added bonus" that alumni, particularly class board presidents, were present. They said that the alumni were also influential because of their connections to Magill, Penn, developers in University City, and "other stakeholders."

Another recent FFP protest where alumni were present occurred at the October homecoming game, which delayed play for over an hour. After that protest, students in Penn Band who participated in the protest were suspended from participation in the band until January 2024. In both cases, the anonymous alum felt that protestors had overstayed their welcome and had lost an otherwise supportive crowd.

Suss also said that the interruption seemed long and the reasons were not made sufficiently clear to attendees. 

“What happens is [attendees] just turn off and wait for it to be over so they can continue what they were doing,” Suss said.

Protestors also distributed “leaflets” with information, some of which were accepted by alumni, according to Nhieu. 

“I actually got into a conversation with a couple of alumni who were really curious, they didn't know what was going on,” Nhieu told the DP. “They hadn't heard about the protesters in the UC Townhomes, so they were asking me if I knew anything about it.” 

Nhieu expressed additional concern about how the noise might have affected older attendees, some of whom represented classes as far back as the mid-1950s.  

While alumni criticized the tactics, timing, and effectiveness of the protest, none went so far as to condemn the protest itself.

“There’s a kind of protesting that is certainly fine and dandy. And there may very well be a genuine issue here that needs to be looked at. And I would appreciate the opportunity to do that,” Suss said. 

In addition to the homecoming football game, protestors also interrupted the convocation of the class of 2026 in September. 

Protestors are demanding that the University commit to putting $10 million toward the preservation of the UC townhomes, according to Varlotta. Penn has said that it has no control over the planned redevelopment, and has no plans to purchase the property.