Yale Student Talks Preparing For The Climate Protest

Nov 27, 2019

The annual Harvard-Yale football game drew national attention for something unrelated to sports this year. Hundreds of activists and supporters took to the field to protest the two schools’ endowments. 

It started with 150 activists from both schools. But hundreds more joined from the stands. Protesters unfurled a banner that read: “Nobody wins.”

“Divest now! Divest now! Divest now!”

Police charged fifty protesters with disorderly conduct. Nora Heaphy was one of them. She’s a Yale student and part of the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition.

“We knew that hundreds of alumni from Harvard and Yale would be returning to watch the game, people who might not know that their institutions are investing in the climate crisis, people who are perhaps climate scientists or environmental policy makers, or just people who are scared about what climate change means for their future. And we wanted to bring this to their attention in a big way.”

Yale’s endowment is about $30 billion.

“The Yale endowment is basically a big pot of money,” Heaphy said, adding that investigators have found about $600 million of it invested in fossil fuel companies. And she says Yale also has huge investments in Puerto Rico’s $74 billion debt.

“Yale has investments in the private prison industry, in predatory student loan companies that their own students are subjected to, in companies that foreclose on homes in New Haven. For an institution that is founded on a goal of preparing students to do good in the world, the endowment does a lot of harm.”

Heaphy says students from both Yale and Harvard spent a month and a half planning the protest. They even got training in nonviolent resistance tactics. Still, she says when it was time to take the field, she was terrified.

“I’d never been to a football game before. It felt like an unbearably long time, not knowing whether we were going to make it onto the field or not. When I saw that not just a couple people but hundreds were flooding the field to join us, that was the first time in a while that I felt like we could really win.”

They also got support on social media from some pretty high profile names, including Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

“We’ve been calling it a moment of the whirlwind. It’s this moment where your campaign works so hard for years and years and years. And sometimes feels like you’re not getting anywhere. And then something clicks and suddenly your action is everywhere, and no one can ignore it.”

Yale football player Devin Moore praised the protests on Twitter. So did Harvard football captain Wesley Ogsbury.

“Both of our institutions continue to invest in industries destroying our futures, and when it comes to the climate crisis, no one wins.”

The protests also drew some criticism from some who would rather have watched the game. Former football coach Lou Holz complained about the activists on Fox Business.

“Everybody’s talking about this sit-in. They should be talking about the great game. Nobody’s talking about it. Everybody’s talking about climate change.”

Nora Heaphy says activists plan to keep pressure on administrators. They’re asking high-profile alumni like Al Gore to refuse to donate to the universities until they divest.

“If Yale and Harvard will not listen to their students, then we need to take this fight right to them. We need to go after something they do care about: donations. I think Yale and Harvard had better be ready, because this is only the beginning.”

A spokesperson for the Ivy League said it was regrettable the protest came during an annual tradition. Yale officials said the school stands firmly for freedom of expression – but said it stands by the Ivy League’s statement.

Audio credit: ESPN