Following the successful election of three candidates last year, Harvard Forward is again vying for seats on the Board of Overseers, the University’s second-highest governing body.
Harvard Forward — a student and alumni organization working to call attention to climate action and racial justice issues within the University’s governance boards — announced on Nov. 17 that its 2021 slate of candidates includes three Harvard alumni: Yvette O. Efevbera, Megan H. Red Shirt-Shaw, and Natalie Unterstell.
The Harvard Alumni Association Nominating Committee announced on Jan. 12 eight nominees who will appear on the ballot. The eight nominations do not include the three candidates Harvard Forward proposed this year.
Efevbera, Red Shirt-Shaw, and Unterstell, however, can still make it onto the ballot by submitting a petition with 2,987 alumni signatures — one percent of eligible voters — by Feb. 3, previously done by Harvard Forward’s candidates in 2020.
In an email sent to Harvard affiliates on Jan. 19, Harvard Forward announced it had reached 2,150 signatures. Entering the final week of the petition period, however, the campaign estimates that it now needs around 500 more signatures for each of its candidates to qualify for the election ballot.
Harvard Forward previously put forward five candidates for the 2020 election. Though all five of last year’s candidates made it onto the election ballot, only three — Margaret “Midge” M. Purce ’17, Jayson U. Toweh, and Dorothy “Thea” L. Sebastian ’08 — were ultimately elected.
Following a September 2020 change in the Board’s policy, members nominated by petition can fill only 6 of the 30 total seats at any given time. With Purce, Toweh, and Sebastian only one year into their terms as Board members, a maximum of three additional candidates who are nominated by petition may be elected to serve until 2026.
The group’s platform advocates for total divestment of the University’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry and for a fossil fuel-free campus by 2030, while the University’s current climate action plan resolves to achieve fossil fuel-free operations by 2050.
This year, Harvard Forward expanded its platform to also prioritize racial justice issues. Its policy proposals include the creation of an Ethnic Studies department and concentration, as well as the divestment of the University’s endowment from the private prison industry.
Despite calls for divestment from students, alumni, and a majority of faculty members, Harvard has repeatedly declined to divest its endowment from fossil fuels and private prisons. University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in November 2020 that, while administrators agree climate change presents an urgent challenge, they “respectfully disagree” that divestment is the means the University should use to address it.
“Universities like Harvard have a crucial role to play in tackling climate change and Harvard is fully committed to leadership in this area through research, education, community engagement, dramatically reducing its own carbon footprint, and using our campus as a test bed for piloting and proving solutions,” Newton wrote.
Unterstell, a Harvard Kennedy School graduate from Brazil, served as a climate policy advisor for the Brazilian government and as a negotiator for her country’s delegation to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change.
She said her motivation is rooted in Harvard’s 2050 goal to achieve net-zero emissions, which she believes does not go far enough.
“I think what Harvard proposed or committed to in terms of the 2050 commitment is a small, good step, it goes in the right direction,” Unterstell said. “However, it's highly incomplete and insufficient, in my point of view.”
She also said that Harvard should be following in the footsteps of its peer institutions that have pulled their endowments out of fossil fuel investments.
A former resident tutor of Cabot House, Efevbera advises the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on preventing gender-based violence and child marriage and promoting gender equality.
Efevbera holds a Master of Science in Global Health and a Doctor of Science in Population and Reproductive Health from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Her academic and nonprofit work has focused on issues at the intersection of youth and gender, such as female child marriage and HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa and the Diaspora.
She said she believes an important and exciting aspect of her campaign with Harvard Forward is the ability to elevate the voices of thousands of alumni.
“It's not just about selecting three great candidates, but it's really about getting more alumni engaged in voicing their perspectives — our perspectives — on what really matters and where the university needs to make changes — where the university needs to step up as a leader,” Efevbera said.
Similar to Efevbera, Red Shirt-Shaw — an education activist and graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education — said her decision to run for the Board of Overseers is rooted in bringing underrepresented perspectives to the forefront. Red Shirt-Shaw touched on her Indigenous roots and her impression that Harvard has not made strides to increase minority representation as well as her background in higher education.
“I'm indigenous, I'm Oglala Lakota, and I think, too, that there are a lot of promises that have not been kept by Harvard, historically, to those communities,” Red Shirt-Shaw added. “And so I think that was also a really large reason why I felt that it was important to make this run and to represent on the Harvard Forward platform with these incredible two other women.”
The election is scheduled to take place from April 1 to May 18. With the exception of those in University instruction and governance positions and members of the Harvard Corporation, all Harvard degree holders are eligible to vote in the election.
—Staff writer Kelsey J. Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kelseyjgriffin.
—Staff writer Kevin A. Simauchi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Simauchi.