Usually students storm the field after their team wins the game, but on Saturday protesters just waited until the end of halftime at the Yale-Harvard football game. Some refused to get off the field, leading to a delay in the game and their arrests.
“We really wanted to capitalize on the media attention that would be at this event,” said Elea Hewitt, an environmental science major who helped coordinate a climate change protest organized by student groups at both schools.
Fossil Free Yale and the Yale Endowment Justice coalition joined similarly named groups from Harvard to protest the reliance they say both universities’ endowment funds have on fossil fuels.
“They trumpet their achievements in climate science, in pioneering a lot of scientific research, but then we’re calling them out for being hypocritical because that is funded by fossil fuel profits,” said Martin Man, a member of both organizations and 2019 graduate of Yale University.
Hewitt said members of the organizations divided into teams to plan out the protest.
“We were all assigned groups. There were about nine of us and each group had a police liaison, a communications director, and someone that would check in with everybody, a vibes captain,” she explained.
Hewitt said 150 students signed up to protest on the field knowing they might be arrested.
“Our plan was to go and sit on the field until Yale and Harvard committed to divesting from fossil fuels,” said Hewitt.
She said everyone who volunteered to be on the field was required to take non-violent direct action training. Others led rallies in the stands and another protest outside the stadium.
Hewitt said the coordinating team spent more than a month planning the protest with Harvard students.
“We took a trip out to the Bowl and scoped it out beforehand,” said Hewitt.
That field trip provided pictures for Yale students to study. On game day, they sent a decoy down the visiting team tunnel to distract security personnel and carried several large banners onto the football field.
“We thought that given the historical level of security and there’s police there that it would be much harder,” said Man.
The 150 students committed to storming the field, were joined by countess others from the stands like actor and Yale alumnus Sam Waterston.
“People just started pouring into the middle of the field,” recalled Juan Scrna, a Yale sophomore who attended Saturday’s game but didn’t storm the field.
“A bunch of students including myself rushed the field to join the protesters,” said Larissa Nguyn, a Yale Senior from Brooklyn, New York. “A lot is at stake for me in terms in climate change so getting arrested is nothing.”
“I think they are doing it for a good cause and it caused a minor delay, but protests disrupt, but it’s OK,” said Nelson Ruseler-Smith, a Yale sophomore,
Neither Yale University nor the Yale Police Department would comment on security at the game, but did say that the incident will be a focus of the police department’s after action plan meeting next month.
“From my personal experience the security was actually pretty tight but I guess on the field it wasn’t,” said Scrna.
The protest, which delayed the start of the second half, ended with the arrest of 50 people, including Hewitt, who said she's prepared to face the consequences.
Those arrested will face a judge in December each on a count of disorderly conduct. Hewitt said she also expect to be called before Yale’s disciplinary board because her arrest happened on school property.
“There comes a time when action is necessary and if it means that I face repercussions so be it. This is worth it, cause this is our future,” said Hewitt.
She said the groups that organized Saturday’s sit-in will continue to target the university’s image and its alumni.
“It is one of our main strategies right now, to request that they pledge not to donate to Yale until they meet our demands,” said Hewitt.
The university did not respond to NBC Connecticut’s request for comment on Monday, but sent a statement over the weekend that said in part, “The exercise of free expression on campus is subject to general conditions, and we do not allow disruption of university events.”
Neither Yale nor Harvard has indicated it plans to change its endowment policy, but Hewitt said the support she received on the field Saturday will only fuel her fight.
“How can an institution claim to be protecting our best interests by actively working to destroy our future,” asked Hewitt. “I believe that it’s my responsibility and my duty to use what privilege and education I have to bring awareness to this movement, cause it’s going to affect the world and can’t stand by and let that happen.”
According to a social responsibility statement on the Yale Investment Office’s website, when it comes to climate change “The Investments Office has asked Yale’s Endowment managers not to hold companies that refuse to acknowledge the social and financial costs of climate change and that fail to take economically sensible steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”