DEMAND PENN STOP PUNISHING PEACEFUL PROTESTERS
Fossil Free Penn (FFP) is a climate justice organization at the University of Pennsylvania. Over the course of this semester, we have been demanding Penn to commit funds to save the UC Townhomes, divest from fossil fuels, and pay PILOTs. After months of silence from the new administration, we held a 39 day encampment in the center of campus, and protested at halftime during the Penn-Yale homecoming football game.
These protests brought thousands of people together across our University and Philadelphia to call on Penn to do their part for the community and the world. In response, the Penn administration has targeted students with intimidation and disciplinary processes to try and silence our voices. Their motive is clear: to intimidate student organizers from their work now, and to prevent student activism in the future.
Support Fossil Free Penn and our right to free speech. Penn’s disciplinary office, the office of Community Standards and Accountability (CSA), is intimidating students who have spoken out against the University's harmful operations. We demand the University of Pennsylvania:
Drop all current CSA investigations against peaceful student protesters
End the practice of calling peaceful protesters to participate in disciplinary processes in the future
Make deep changes to our University’s Open Expression policy through a transparent review process that includes students, faculty, staff, community members, and activists. Specifically, we demand Open Expression:
be a truly independent body, separate from the Penn administration and disciplinary processes.
uphold the rights of student protestors.
Below, we provide details of our protests and interactions with the Penn Administration intimidating and disciplining student activists.
In April 2022, we set up a six day encampment to raise awareness about our new, justice-oriented demands. However, protesters faced multiple levels of harassment during this encampment, and twelve of us were asked to go to a meeting with CSA. We were aggressively questioned for three hours, despite the fact that both students and professors contested the legitimacy of the meeting. The professors argued that had we not broken any rules, instead Penn had broken numerous guidelines in their treatment of protesters. In the end, we were let off with a warning email.
Another action by activists on campus this semester is disrupting convocation, which is a three hour long event filled with speeches from senior university administrators to welcome freshmen to campus before the first day of classes. This year, convocation was met with a protest demanding that Penn step in to stop the eviction of 68 families that is happening just blocks from campus. There were approximately 15 students in the initial protest group, around five minutes later, another group of around 70 people arrived and the protests merged. The protest ended with hundreds of supporters demanding that Penn Save the UC Townhomes.
For three weeks, protesters did not hear anything from the CSA Office.
In mid-September, FFP set up a second encampment with three specific demands: Save the UC Townhomes, Divest from fossil fuels, and Pay PILOTs. The protest quickly became the talk of campus, with many people coming to learn how to get involved or learn more about the demands.
Just like us, the administration came back in full force. Individual senior administrators continuously pressed us for IDs, despite the fact that according to the University’s own guidelines, they can not ask for student IDs at a protest. They even lied about their motivations for wanting to see students’ IDs. At points, a senior administrator claimed they needed to prove that the protesters were Penn students. However, they would proceed to write down the name and student ID number of every ID that was shown to them.
A day later, not only did some encampment protesters get emails from CSA, but so did two students who participated in the convocation protest. They targeted the two students who participated in the convocation protest who have been prominent in Penn student activism before this.
To us, it felt like the CSA office had unchecked power. However, we soon learned about the Open Expression Committee, which is a body made up of professors and staff at the University who are supposed to interpret Penn’s guidelines and provide recommendations based on their interpretation. Finally, it felt like there was a balance to CSA’s power. FFP listened to the guidance of the open expression committee who told us to request an open expression observer through the University. We were denied an open expression observer on the basis that the administrators coming to take our IDs were open expression observers.
About a week and a half into the encampment, the students hosted a press conference where they mentioned the intimidation by senior administrators and CSA. We also had community members and students from a number of groups talk about and uplift the FFP demands. Two members of the administration showed up to the press conference with a decibel meter. After getting press around intimidation, the administration largely stopped asking for student IDs.
During the resulting CSA process, students had to fight to have a group meeting, despite this being a precedent from Fossil Free Penn’s previous encampment. When some students were not feeling well and unable to make certain meeting times, CSA sent Resident Advisors (RAs) to check to make sure that the students were not lying about their illness, an extreme invasion of privacy and a breach of trust. Other students had to delay proposed individual meeting times so that their faculty advisor could attend the meeting. CSA tried to stop this from happening by offering their list of advisors to students. On this list of “advisors” is an administrator also responsible for both protecting open expression and for regulating and punishing it, which is a clear conflict of interest.
The encampment continued for 39 days. On the 39th day was Penn’s homecoming football game against Yale. About 75 protesters stormed the field at half time, holding up banners and chanting around the three encampment demands. There were other students in the stands holding up banners and passing out flyers. We delayed the football game because after eight years of existing as an organization and 39 days of sleeping outside, the administration continued to ignore us. The residents of the UC Townhomes cannot wait while the Penn administration twiddles their thumbs. Our future cannot wait. The Philadelphia public school students cannot wait.
During this action, there were 19 people, including 17 Penn students, arrested. Penn arrested 17 of their own students for demanding climate justice. These 17 students got an email from CSA a few days after being arrested. About a week later, 7 more students got an email from CSA alleging that they were on the football field at homecoming, thereby breaking open expression guidelines. The majority of the students who got an email in the second round were targeted because they were known to senior administrators as student activists. Once again, the administration broke their own Open Expression Guidelines to identify students.
None of this is an accident. The administration knows that they are scaring us out of organizing. Their attempts to get student leaders in trouble so that we cannot train new organizers are crystal clear. The University knows that we have spent countless hours organizing around CSA meetings. We have diverted so much energy from advocating for our demands to make the University a more just institution, to ensuring that we do not get in trouble for that very ask. FFP is not the same as a case of a breach of academic integrity. We are student activists that are trying to make our University a force of good in the Philadelphia community.
Thank you for your support!
In love and solidarity,
From: [Your Name]
I stand in solidarity with Fossil Free Penn right to peaceful protest on Penn’s campus. I uplift their demand to the University:
1. Drop all current CSA investigations against peaceful student protesters
2. End the practice of calling peaceful protesters to participate in disciplinary processes in the future
3. Make deep changes to our University’s Open Expression policy through a transparent review process that includes students, faculty, staff, community members, and activists. Specifically, we demand Open Expression:
a. be a truly independent body, separate from the Penn administration and disciplinary processes.
b. uphold the rights of student protestors