Nineteen University of Pennsylvania students were arrested for staging a protest at the Penn-Yale homecoming football game on October 22. The students, members of Fossil Free Penn (FFP), were charged with defiant trespass after storming the field at the end of the halftime show carrying banners and chanting, “Which side are you on?”
Prior to Saturday’s protest the students had camped in tents on Penn’s College Green, a park-like setting at the heart of the main campus, for 39 days to pressure university administrators to make a public commitment to divest the endowment from all fossil fuel companies; establish a fund of $5-10 million to support residents of UC Townhomes, the last subsidized housing in University City, whose occupants face eviction due to the pending sale of the site; and pay additional funds to the City through PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) to provide a greater level of support to all Philadelphia public schools.
According to an FFP spokesperson, after approximately 50 minutes of protest 13 student activists were cuffed and escorted from the playing field; an additional six activists were taken into custody as they attempted to exit the area.
Following the arrests, the students staged a second protest Saturday evening in front of Penn’s Police Department on Chestnut Street to demand the release of the student activists.
Neighborhood supporters and residents of UC Townhomes joined the protest, and, with their encouragement, the students moved from the sidewalk to Chestnut Street — effectively blocking all traffic. One member of the coalition spoke to the crowd about the students’ success in interrupting the live broadcast of the football game. “You guys sent them to commercials and they never came back.”
Also addressing the crowd, Kenny Chiu, a Penn sophomore from South Philadelphia, outlined the importance of their PILOTs demand. “I’m at Penn, so it’s my responsibility now to speak of these things after seeing all of the resources given to us. It’s terrible that the University of Pennsylvania is the largest landowner in University City, but does not pay property taxes. It’s important to push PILOTs and to press Penn on its promise to serve the Philly community.”
In November 2020 the university pledged $10 million per year for 10 years to fund the removal of asbestos and improve the environmental safety in Philadelphia schools. The university provides additional funds to two elementary schools within its boundaries: Penn Alexander and Henry C. Lea School, which serve as training grounds for Penn’s education program. Chiu and his fellow activists contend that these benefits should be spread more equitably throughout the district. The “Penn for PILOTs” website estimates that if the university paid 40% of estimated property taxes, the contribution would be approximately $40 million per year.
On Saturday evening, as police began to discharge the students one by one, some protestors moved to the station’s back entrance to continue their chants and welcome the freed students as they emerged. After nearly five hours in custody, the last student was released.
On Sunday members of FFP announced on social media their decision to take down their tents from College Green. “Last night, we made the decision to end the encampment. Yesterday’s action made it clear that we will not stop fighting until we achieve our demands. We have fought for divestment and climate justice for eight years. We slept outside and held space on College Green for 39 days. We took the field at the homecoming game. We will not stop until our demands are met.”