Student organizer: Yale climate protest ‘win’ despite possible discipline, arrests

Nora Heaphy, right, stands outside U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro's office preparing to send a letter to the congresswoman calling for support on a new environmental proposal in 2018.

Yale students who drew international attention when they disrupted the Yale-Harvard football game Saturday with Crimson Ivy leaguers must face a judge but it’s not clear yet if they face university discipline.

Gregg Gonsalves, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health, said a similar student led sit-in led to dozens of young protesters being investigated for disciplinary action by Yale.

“The university uses this as a cudgel,” said Gonsalves, noting he supports what the protesters did to draw attention to climate change.

The university had not by 5:30 p.m. Sunday commented on what the next step was for students who are among the 42 individuals who were issued misdemeanor summonses on charges of disorderly conduct.

Among those arrested was Law & Order actor and Yale class of 1962 alum Sam Waterston. Police did not release the rest of the names of those charged.

Yale University junior, Nora Heaphy 20, who helped organize the protest, said it’s unclear to her whether she and the other students will face disciplinary action for their protest. Heaphy said she expects some administrative response.

Even when police took banners away from the protesters and even after more than 200 people were escorted from the field, Heaphy said she was full of gratitude so many participated, and the protest seemed to have made an impact.

“This is what it looks like when a movement starts to win,” she said.

But for students who will face a Superior Court judge on the charges a gofundme page says funds are being raised to pay for the activists’ legal fees and fines for those who were arrested at the protest. The page was created by Fossil Free Yale, also a student group seeking to cancel the university’s holdings in fossil fuel companies and Puerto Rican debt.

“Many of the amazing activists who were arrested rely on financial aid for tuition, and we do not wish for any student to suffer financial repercussions for participating in direct action against climate injustice,” the post on gofundme said.

The post also noted that the money will go towards paying the transportation costs for Harvard students who must return to the state for court appearances.

The protest was organized by the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition and Divest Harvard, according to a pamphlet given to Hearst reporters. The organizations are pushing for both universities to cancel their endowment investments, valued at more than $71 billion, in companies involved in gas, coal and oil.

They also want the two Ivy League institutions to cut ties with companies invested in Puerto Rico’s debt.

On Saturday, the university said it “stands firmly for the right to free expression,” but noted students from both schools “delayed the start of the second half of the football game,” in statement.

A sports writer for Hearst Connecticut Media who was at the game said most of the first wave of protesters came from the Harvard student section and police were already on the field by just before 2 p.m.

By 2:09 p.m., both teams were in their respective locker rooms, the reporter said. For the next 29 minutes, the protesters camped out in the middle of the Yale Bowl stadium, while officials tried to get them to move off the field.

Gonsalves, the professor, said the protesters did the right thing, posing the question of whether it would have had the same impact if the students had stormed an empty stadium when it was not a widely-watched game.

“No matter what Harvard or Yale said in their press releases... this was the right thing to do,” said Gonsalves, noting the protest has received widespread coverage.

Police confiscated signs from those gathered on the field a few minutes after they arrived. A minute later, more police came onto the field, but they were soon joined by additional spectators, who swarmed on the field from all directions to join the protesters.

Gonsalves said to his knowledge, no one has been sent before the university’s executive committee, which handles student discipline cases, but also said that he was not at the game and did not witness the protest first hand.

“Students have very little power, but what they do have is their bodies. They basically threw their bodies on the wheel,” he said.

In a video posted to Twitter, U.S. Rep. Andy Levine, D-Michigan, a 1994 Harvard graduate, said his son was among the protesters who took to the field.

“I am one proud dad today,” he tweeted with the video. “We can’t have institutions like Harvard and Yale investing in fossil fuel companies, let’s end the climate crisis by converting to renewable energy as fast as we can,” the Michigan Democrat said.

He compared the climate change protesters with a hunger strike his classmates took part in. That protested was aimed at forcing Harvard to stop dealing in stocks from companies that did business in South Africa, he said.

Heaphy said that as she sat in the bleachers Saturday, her nerves were buzzing.

“We were in the stands for the entire first half of the game,” said Heaphy, a New Haven resident. “That’s a long time to wait.”

And as she waited, she worried. Would all the people who had committed to the protest make it on the field? Or would security stop them?

When the moment came, she rushed on the field, joined by hundreds of others, and her worries evaporated.

Connecticut Media Group