On Feb. 21, student organizers from Drexel Community for Justice kicked off an indefinite sit-in protest both outside of Main Building, the office of President John A. Fry and the office of the Provost.
Organizers have stated that they will occupy the Main Building until the following demands are met: President Fry removes Brett Altman and David Adelman from the Real Estate Advisory Council and Drexel commits $10,000,000 to directly support Townhomes residents.
The action initially began with a rally outside at the Dragon statue on 33rd and Market St. Chanting “housing is a human right” and “save the people’s townhomes,” students marched down to Main Building, less than eight blocks away from the Townhomes. From there, one group of protesters remained outside while another group staged a sit-in outside of the Provost’s Office.
Outside, students and community organizers were joined by the Save the UC Townhomes Coalition, members from Police Free Penn and from Students for the Preservation of Chinatown (SPOC), among others.
The Drexel University Police Department and the Philadelphia Police Department have been monitoring the situation and the student protesters, being strict in allowing only students with physical Drexel I.D. ‘s inside of the building.
“DUPD and PPD entered the building…they barricaded us in. They did not allow us access to bathrooms the entire night – from 10 p.m. to to 8 a.m. we were told if we were to cross that barricade, we would be considered trespassing and face expulsion,” said Chelsea, an organizer for Drexel for Justice, to the Triangle in a video interview via Instagram.
Organizers stated that police used intimidation tactics on protesters overnight and tried to keep them up by whistling, jangling keys and making other disruptive noises.
On the first day of the strike, Senior Vice Provost Lucy Kerman came out to assess the situation and talk to the protesters. The organizers stated that no material updates emerged from that conversation and that Kerman said Drexel would continue conversations with the Townhomes residents.
On Feb. 23, the third day of the sit-in, President Fry sent out an email to the Drexel community stating: “While the University has not been involved in the sale or purchase of the townhomes, we recognize that this is a complex and challenging situation. Consequently, I have met with several UC Townhomes residents to learn directly from them about their experiences and to hear their ideas about how the University can be supportive.”
Fry further explained the university encourages inquiry and debate, saying, “In that spirit, we will continue to safeguard the right of student protestors to assemble peacefully without violating any University policies or disrupting classes or regular operations.”
No concessions have been made on behalf of the university’s side, despite the sit-in continuing for nearly three days at the time this article was published.
Over the course of the protest, students have dropped in to join the sit-in; there have been teach-ins and political education sessions, as well as activities such as creating art and playing music.
For over one and a half years, the residents and allies of the University City Townhomes have been protesting their imminent displacement. University City was once known as the Black Bottom, a primarily African-American lower income section of West Philadelphia that became gentrified by the efforts of former mayor Frank Rizzo, and universities such as Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania. The UC Townhomes, whose land was purchased for $1, were built in 1983 after the Rizzo administration found itself in federal court due to housing discrimination. This land is now valued at over 100 million dollars.
Ever since landlord Brett Altman declined to renew the lease of these affordable housing complexes, the residents and surrounding communities have pushed back through rallies and organized protests across the city. They were able to put back the end of their HUD contract by several months. However, the contract officially expired as of Feb. 21, 2023.
Students had previously protested outside the newly-opened Drexel Health Sciences Building on Dec. 7, 2022 during the building’s ribbon cutting ceremony. The building is on the site of the former University City High School, demolished by Drexel in 2014.
As of the time of publishing, the strike will continue until demands are met. For live coverage of the sit-in, follow along via Instagram @drexeltriangle and @drexelforjustice.