Nineteen Yale University students were arrested on Thursday while participating in a sit-in at the main administrative building of the prestigious university as they called for the president and board of trustees to reopen the conversation surrounding fossil fuel divestment of the school's nearly $24 billion endowment, the third largest among U.S. schools.
According to Fossil Free Yale—the group behind the sit-in and a member of the global student movement urging colleges and universities to "Go Fossil Free"—48 students began the protest at 9 am and remained in the building peacefully until the building closed at 5 pm, at which time nineteen were arrested after refusing to leave the premises. Though not the first time students have been arrested as part of similar school divestment actions, it has been quite rare and is believed to be the first incident of student arrests during the current academic semester.
This video footage was posted by the Yale Daily News:
"Yale would rather arrest its students than re-engage in the conversation [about divestment]," said Fossil Free Yale project manager Mitch Barrows in a statement.
As those arrested were brought out, more than 150 students gathered in a circle around the building and chanted "The students united, will never be divided," as the Blue Feather Drum Group, a Native American dance and music group, performed.
As Common Dreams reported earlier on Thursday, the action at Yale is part of a coordinated campaign among student climate justice activists across the country who have vowed to escalate their efforts this month in the face of bureaucratic roadblocks and refusals by trustees and top administrators, including Yale President Peter Salovey, who say that divesting from fossil fuels is either unwarranted or does not comport with fiduciary obligations. For its part, the student-led movement at Yale is fighting for the school to divest its $23.9 billion endowment from all holdings in the coal, oil, and natural gas industries.
Early in the day, President Salovey addressed the students in person, telling them that a sit-in was not a proper way to file their complaints with the university. According to students, Salovey urged them to use "administrative channels" to voice their concerns.
In a statement the group said:
Students held the sit-in to call on the University to reopen the conversation on fossil fuel divestment. The sit-in follows a two year effort by student group Fossil Free Yale to work with the administration to divest the university’s endowment from fossil fuels. During this period, Fossil Free Yale worked through the same administrative channels that Salovey referenced when he addressed students this morning.
In August 2014, Yale refused to divest, announcing instead a series of sustainability initiatives. Fossil Free Yale continued to attempt to work with the administration to achieve divestment, arguing that sustainability is unable to address the social injustices of fossil fuel extraction and burning. The university has not responded to these claims, and Fossil Free Yale held this sit-in to hold Yale decision-makers responsible for open and honest engagement with students.
On Twitter, the students at Yale were receiving high praise from other divestment campaigners and fellow climate activists: