A protest by student organizers with MSU’s chapter of the Sunrise Movement was stopped by Spartan Stadium security during MSU’s final home game against Indiana.
During the game, Sunrise students stood at the top of the stands and unraveled banners reading “NO OIL MONEY” and “TRUSTEES: DIVEST NOW.”
Their protest is part of the group’s larger push for full divestment from fossil fuels by MSU’s Office of Investments and the board’s investment committee.
Comparative cultures and politics sophomore Jesse Estrada-White said that they stood with the signs visible for about ten minutes before the intervention. However, it may have felt longer than it truly was, “given the cold.”
Estrada-White said at that point, a member of stadium security approached them and told them he would confiscate the banners.
Estrada-White said he then stepped aside to talk to the security guard in hopes of stalling him “as long as possible,” but that the guard was insistent that they had violated university policy and would have to forfeit the signs.
“He just kept saying ‘it's university policy,’ that he got orders directly from the top management,” Estrada-White said, “‘Up in the tower,’ were the words he used.”
Eventually, Estrada-White said organizers gave security the banners and followed the guard down through the stadium. The guard then threw the banners in the trash, and when Sunrise organizers went to retrieve them, Estrada-White said they “got kicked out; they basically told us we had to leave.”
MSU Deputy Spokesperson Dan Olsen said that based on his talks with Spartan Stadium management, the Sunrise students were permitted to stay at the game as long as they gave up their signs.
“The students were not asked to leave the stadium,” Olsen said. “They were just asked to give up the signs that they had because that's a violation of the policy.”
Olsen said in an email that Sunrise students "left voluntarily" after "stadium personnel educated the individuals on the no-sign policy."
Estrada-White said at that point in the confrontation, “it didn't really feel like a choice.”
“I mean, they can say it was a choice, but ... it was between keeping the property that we made, or the football game,” Estrada-White said.
An online PDF of the Spartan Stadium gameday rules lists “flag poles, banners or signs” as prohibited items.
Olsen said today’s enforcement of that rule was consistent with past instances. He and Spartan Stadium security could not point to specific instances of the policy being previously enforced.
When asked if security would have handled the incident in the same way if the signs were in support of the team rather than protests against the university’s administration, Estrada-White said, “my guess would be they would not police that the same way.”
Estrada-White said organizers weren’t aware of the rule before today’s protest.
“We were aware that there may be a rule against it,” Estrada-White said. “But, we also know that there were people who had made signs before by painting on themselves and showing it that way, so I don't really know what the difference is between those and ours.”
Estrada-White said he knew of instances of body-painted messages that weren’t policed by stadium security.
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Earlier this week, MSU Sunrise made public statements after months of dormancy. In September, leaders told The State News they would be taking time to have closed "visioning sessions" with new members to ensure the voices of their newest members were heard in their organizing.
Divestment from MSU’s fossil fuels funds is currently at a standstill. In 2018, the university announced that it would exit all public investments in fossil fuels and not make any new investments. But today, the university still holds about $90 million in private investments and funds.
MSU has not exited direct investments as many are contractual, and pulling out could lead to further fees for the university. Many of the funds are controlled by asset managers, leaving the board out of control over what the money is invested in.
The board believes the investments in managed funds will expire by 2031, though they say they cannot be sure of that date.
“We believe them when they say that, our point has been divest now,” Estrada-White said in September. “We cannot wait until 2031. So it's divest now, divest fully and reinvest."
“Our statement’s the same,” Estrada-White said today. “It's shameful that MSU is investing in fossil fuels. We urge them to ... reinvest in ways that support our communities.”
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