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As Divest Blockade Continues, Protesters Await Response

Several top officials have yet to publicly react to ongoing divestment demonstrations

Protesters attend a "Faith Day" rally in front of Massachusetts Hall. The event took place Wednesday morning as part of Divest Harvard's "Harvard Heat Week."
Protesters attend a "Faith Day" rally in front of Massachusetts Hall. The event took place Wednesday morning as part of Divest Harvard's "Harvard Heat Week." By Alexander L. Jaffe
By Mariel A. Klein, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: April 16, 2015, at 12:03 a.m.

Environmental activist group Divest Harvard blockaded Massachusetts Hall for a fourth day on Wednesday, continuing to demand that Harvard divest its endowment from fossil fuels even as some top University officials largely ignored them.

The group of protesters launched the planned blockade of Harvard’s central administrative building on Sunday as part of its “Heat Week” demonstration, which so far has also included a four-hour blockade of University Hall and an occupation of the Harvard Alumni Association in an attempt to confront the administration about divestment. While protesters have successfully evoked responses from some administrators, others have not publicly reacted to the disruption as they have gone to work elsewhere.

After a nearly two-day sit-in that spanned Monday and Tuesday nights, protesters calling for Harvard to divest its endowment from fossil fuels left the Harvard Alumni Association at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, unsuccessful in their attempt to meet with alumni office leadership to discuss divestment during their occupation.

Alumni supporters of Divest Harvard took to HAA headquarters on Mt. Auburn Street beginning on Monday at 2 p.m. to demand a meeting with the organization’s leaders. About a dozen protesters stayed overnight on Monday and Tuesday.

Alumni supporters of environmental activist group Divest Harvard occupied the Harvard Alumni Association on Mt. Auburn Street for just under two days.
Alumni supporters of environmental activist group Divest Harvard occupied the Harvard Alumni Association on Mt. Auburn Street for just under two days. By Y. Kit Wu

At the sit-in, alumni signed pledge cards for a fossil-free fund, an alternative to donating to the University’s endowment, that stipulates Harvard will only receive the donations if it publicly commits to divestment by Dec. 31, 2025. They presented around 60 pledge cards with donations up to $5,000 to Shannon Gerah, the human resources director for Alumni Affairs and Development, and plan to present another 40 to HAA that have been filled out at Mass. Hall, according to Collin Rees ’12, a coordinator for environmental activist organization 350.org.

Philip W. Lovejoy, executive director of the Harvard Alumni Association, wrote in an email that the protesters did not try to set up a meeting prior to occupying the offices on Monday, though he or one of his colleagues generally meet with those alumni who request meetings in advance. He said he has offered demonstrators a meeting later in the month at a mutually convenient time.

“The alumni protesters were very civil and good guests,” wrote Lovejoy, who brought donuts for the alumni occupying his office Tuesday morning. “They vacuumed before they left this morning.”

Board chair of 350.org KC Golden, who camped out in the office on both nights, said the alumni do plan to meet with Lovejoy per his offer, but added that he was disappointed that they did not get a meeting during the sit-in. Still, Golden said the protesters gave it “a good college try.”

“We played out our best effort to generate a serious discussion,” he said. “Ten minutes of those 44 hours could have been mutually convenient.”

University President Drew G. Faust enters Emerson Hall, where members of the student activist group Divest Harvard attempted to confront her before she introduced a lecture on Wednesday afternoon. Security personnel had  placed guard rails between Loeb House and the lecture hall.
University President Drew G. Faust enters Emerson Hall, where members of the student activist group Divest Harvard attempted to confront her before she introduced a lecture on Wednesday afternoon. Security personnel had placed guard rails between Loeb House and the lecture hall. By Thomas W. Franck

Meanwhile, protesters continued to blockade Mass. Hall on Wednesday, rallying outside the building. University President Drew G. Faust, whose office is located in Mass. Hall, has repeatedly argued against divestment as a means to address climate change and has condemned some of Divest Harvard’s previous demonstration tactics, such as the group’s February occupation of the same building.

At about 3:30 p.m., roughly 30 protesters, seeking to confront her, walked to Emerson Hall, where Faust was scheduled to deliver introductory remarks at a 4 p.m. lecture. The protesters, signs in hand, stood silently outside both the front steps of Emerson and a side entrance between Loeb House and Emerson. Several Harvard Police officers and metal guard rails blocked off the protesters from the side entrance near Loeb House, where Faust ultimately entered the lecture hall.

The protesters retreated to their blockade after Faust’s remarks, at about 4:15 p.m.

After several days of continuous protest, Divest Harvard has not received the response it wants from University administrators, some of whom have essentially ignored them, at least publicly. Divest Harvard co-coordinator Jasmine P. Opie ’16 said Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana has checked in with demonstrators outside Mass. Hall periodically. But administrators whose offices have been affected by the blockades have relocated to work elsewhere, while police officers have not arrested any protesters for the blockades.

Divest Harvard protesters posted a sign at the entrance to an Emerson lecture hall where University President Drew G. Faust introduced a lecture event.
Divest Harvard protesters posted a sign at the entrance to an Emerson lecture hall where University President Drew G. Faust introduced a lecture event. By Tiana A Abdulmassih

Protesters acknowledge that their efforts have not been met with the response they desire from University leaders.

“It's deeply disappointing for student groups who feel like the administration isn’t engaging in the ways we want,” Opie said. “In that sense, we will be disappointed if [Faust] doesn’t respond to us.”

Divest Harvard has said that it will continue its blockade of Mass. Hall through Friday, April 17.

—Check TheCrimson.com and follow @thecrimson on Twitter for updates.

—Staff writers Meg P. Bernhard, Noah J. Delwiche, and Andrew M. Duehren contributed to reporting of this story

—Staff writer Mariel A. Klein can be reached at mariel.klein@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @mariel_klein.

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CollegeOn CampusCentral AdministrationCollege AdministrationBreaking NewsEndowmentHAAAlumniUniversity FinancesDrew FaustUniversityEnvironmentProtestsUniversity NewsDivestmentRakesh Khurana