The University of Pennsylvania’s convocation was disrupted on Monday as over 100 protestors — including members of the freshman class — used the ceremony to protest gentrification.
The sign-bearing demonstrators interrupted Penn President Liz Magill’s comments about the diversity of the incoming cohort to protest the closure of 70 affordable housing units, according to student-run newspaper The Daily Pennsylvanian. Some of the demonstrators were reportedly incoming freshmen.
“Welcome to the Penn community. We accept you. We love you,” a protestor said to the crowd via megaphone. “Many of you, like us, have been dispossessed. Many of you, like us, may come from low-income areas. It is important to know what institutions like this do to us when we are not paying them to accept us. It is important to know what this institution has been doing for decades.”
Magill was forced to fully pause her speech as protestors streamed into the convocation from nearby Locust Walk. University Chaplain Charles “Chaz” Howard, who also serves as the elite school’s Vice President for Social Equity and Community, attempted to tell the protestors that he understood their motivations before reminding them that the event was meant to celebrate the incoming class.
The protestors chanted “Save UC Townhomes!” and “Stop Penn-trification!”
Magill, a former University of Virginia administrator who recently replaced former Penn President Amy Gutmann after her nomination by President Joe Biden to serve as United States ambassador to Germany, made another attempt at continuing her first major speech at the university.
“Many of our breakthroughs are the result of decades of productive disagreement with prevailing orthodoxies. A community of diverse individuals can’t live together unless they can listen to and learn from one another,” Magill said, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian. “Democracy cannot work unless people can live together, learn from one another and, paradoxically, disagree.”
The protestors, part of Save the UC Townhomes Coalition, argue that the university is contributing to the pending eviction of low-income residents at UC Townhomes as the school attracts affluent residents and businesses. Altman Management Company, which owns UC Townhomes, chose not to extend its affordable housing contract with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, informing residents last year that they had until July 8 to find new homes, according to 34th Street.
The move-out date had been extended to September 7 as most residents had not received Housing Choice Vouchers, which are required to apply for federally subsidized housing. Demonstrators from Save the UC Townhomes Coalition set up more than 15 tents on the premises and refused to leave until their demands were met, leading the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office to tear down the encampment on August 8.
Over the past year, the University of Pennsylvania attracted national attention as Lia Thomas — a male who used to go by “Will” but now claims transgender identity and competes on the women’s swimming team — set multiple records and won the NCAA Division I national championship.
Although the university suggested nominating Thomas for the distinction of NCAA “Woman of the Year” — which recognizes “female student-athletes who have exhausted their eligibility and distinguished themselves in their community, in athletics and in academics” — other Ivy League schools instead opted to nominate Columbia University fencing champion Sylvie Binder.