Dozens of student protesters went to a holiday party at the home of the University of Pennsylvania's president Tuesday, but spreading good cheer was not on their minds.
Carrying signs - "Black Lives Matter" and "No PILOTs, No Peace" - the students protested the death of Michael Brown, the black man killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., as well as Penn's refusal to make payments to help the city's cash-strapped public schools.
Penn president Amy Gutmann joined in the Ferguson protest but did not back down from the university's position on the payments.
"Students are trying to hold Penn accountable," said Daniel Cooper Bermudez, 21, a senior political science major who lives in Philadelphia.
Bermudez is a member of the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), which last week called on Penn to begin donating about $6 million to the city in payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs), with the money targeted for schools and other essential services. Penn said no, noting that it already donated to the city in many ways.
Members of SLAP and Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation took part in the protest. The one-hour pre-finals party, open to all Penn students, was held in Gutmann's residence and a large heated tent behind it.
The party was scheduled for 6 to 7 p.m., and the protest began about 6:20, said Harry Cooperman, city news editor for the Daily Pennsylvanian, the campus newspaper.
Adrian Rios, 21, a senior international relations major from East Los Angeles, Calif., described the affair as "extravagant and disheartening," with fake snow and "nonstop food." He said about 50 protesters went to the party and were joined by about 50 attendees in the protest.
Bermudez and Rios said Gutmann listened to the students and even lay down with them for 41/2 minutes - symbolizing the 41/2 hours that Brown's body lay in the street after being shot.
Gutmann told students, "Black lives matter - all lives matter. Black lives have not been served the way I and others would like them to be served," according to the Daily Pennsylvanian.
When talk turned to PILOTs, Gutmann defended Penn's position, noting its many contributions, including funding the Penn Alexander elementary school. Some students cut her off.
"A lot of us are very tired of hearing the same thing," Bermudez said.
Gutmann eventually stopped trying to address the students and walked among them for a bit before leaving, Bermudez and Rios said.
Penn spokesman Stephen MacCarthy said "a small group" of students demonstrated "to voice their concerns about serious current issues such as the recent Ferguson and New York police-related deaths, and local school funding challenges. At the conclusion of the party, they left the premises peacefully."
Inquirer staff writer Robert Moran and Jonathan Tannenwald of Philly.com contributed to this article.