Students and supporters from the surrounding area gathered outside Ballou Hall today at 12:00 p.m. to show solidarity with protestors — mostly members of Tufts Climate Action (TCA) — who began a sit-in in University President Anthony Monaco’s office on Wednesday, April 22.
Members of TCA, Mothers Out Front, Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC), Divest Somerville, Students Against Mass Incarceration, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Divest Harvard and Climate Justice at Boston College attended the rally and demanded that Tufts divest from fossil fuels in the next five years.
According to Shana Gallagher, a spokesperson for the sit-in protestors, Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon told the seniors among the remaining 16 students that they may not be allowed to graduate unless they leave the building. Gallagher said that expulsion was also mentioned as a possible consequence.
“There are still a number of us inside, and we are being threatened with severe disciplinary action should we stay,” Gallagher told the Daily in an email. “Press have been refused entry to the building. We do still have food and intend to stay here as long as possible.”
Gallagher said that the group was deliberating on its next move, but may have to leave by the end of the day. Its sit-in would total three days in the president’s office, representing the three years that TCA, formerly Tufts Divest, has been working on the campaign, she said.
Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler reiterated the university’s previously stated position regarding the sit-in protestors, saying that the students violated university policy when they entered Monaco’s office after being instructed by a TUPD officer not to do so.
“They have been told by the Dean of Students that they could be subject to disciplinary actions including probation or loss of privileges such as participating in Commencement (which is not the same as not graduating) if they continued their unauthorized occupation,” Thurler told the Daily in an email.
The rally began with a speech from Makaylah Respicio, one of the members of TCA who spearheaded the sit-in. According to Respicio, a first-year, students are staging the sit-in because they have exhausted all other channels of negotiation with the university.
Respicio said that the working group created by the university was set up to fail from the start because many members of the group favored profits over addressing climate change concerns.
According to Respicio, Monaco is on campus but refused to meet with the students in his office. She added that the administration will not have any communication with Board of Trustees members regarding divestment until next semester.
According to Thurler, Monaco has offered to meet with the students when they ended the occupation of his office.
“Neither his office nor the offices of other senior university leaders received any requests from students asking to meet prior to this unauthorized action,” Thurler said.
A representative from Mothers Out Front, a climate change advocacy group of mothers, grandmothers and caregivers, gave a speech in solidarity with the students inside Ballou Hall, reassuring them that there are adults who support them in their cause.
Andrew Nuñez, a member of Students Against Mass Incarceration, spoke in favor of the divestment movement and linked divestment to other social justice movements, saying that the violence and destruction caused by climate change mostly affects poor people of color.
Nuñez, a senior, called on Monaco to speak out in favor of divestment. He said that the Campus Sustainability Council and the recently established Sustainability Fund were not sufficient efforts, and that the university must live up to its claims of active citizenship by divesting.
A member of the Tufts janitorial staff then spoke, connecting the issue to the impending cuts to the janitorial staff and saying that it is unjust that the students may not be allowed to graduate because of their actions against climate change.
Members of SEIU attempted to deliver pizzas to the students inside Ballou Hall, but were not allowed inside. They left the pizzas outside the building, next to Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) officers.
Members of the sit-in spoke from the window of Monaco’s office facing the President’s Lawn, thanking the demonstrators for their support while demonstrators chanted, “We love you.”
Gallagher emphasized how much the group inside appreciated the support from the rally.
“Regardless of when this end[s], we’ll be back stronger and more united to fight for our planet and our community,” she said.
Thurler reiterated the university’s decision not to pursue divestment now, saying that the loss of returns on the endowment due to divestment would be approximately $75 million, which she said is enough to fund scholarships for about 100 undergraduates or annual stipends for an estimated 125 Ph.D. students.
“In summary, divestment at this time would likely result in a significant reduction in operating funds and would have an immediate adverse impact on the educational experience at Tufts,” she said.