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Harvard and MIT Students Disrupt ExxonMobil Campus Recruitment Event to Protest Big Oil

Members of Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard staged a protest outside Harvard's University Hall in fall 2020.
Members of Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard staged a protest outside Harvard's University Hall in fall 2020. By Claire H. Guo
By Christie K. Choi and Carrie Hsu, Crimson Staff Writers

Roughly 30 Harvard and MIT students interrupted an ExxonMobil recruiting event at MIT last Wednesday in protest against big oil companies’ contributions to climate change.

The event — held at MIT’s Earth and Planetary Department — aimed to introduce students to internship and employment opportunities at the company. Following a similar disruption at Brown earlier this month, climate activists from Harvard and MIT held up posters, chanted, and gave speeches, decrying what they see as ExxonMobil’s corruption.

Andrew K. Chu ’26, a member of Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard, said he and about 30 other protesters physically blocked the recruitment presentation to halt the event.

ExxonMobil did not respond to a request for comment.

Saman de Silva ’26, who sang at the event, said the goal of the disruption was to send big oil companies a message that they “do not have a place on campus.”

MIT student Lyne-Nicole A. Odhiambo said educational institutions, like MIT, contradict their missions by inviting companies like ExxonMobil onto their campuses.

“Universities should not be lending our legitimacy to these kinds of companies, let alone inviting them to prey on our students’ talents,” Odhiambo said.

Welcoming companies like ExxonMobil on campus is synonymous with “condoning” the work of these companies, Chu said.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on the protest. MIT spokespeople did not respond to a request for comment.

Sanaa M. Kahloon ’25, who gave a speech at the event, said big oil companies like Exxon have contributed to current disasters, such as the flooding in Pakistan.

“The connection there was that Exxon and similar companies actively harm Harvard and MIT students and their communities,” she said. “And that it’s unacceptable for Exxon to be recruiting the same students that it’s harming.”

“Recruitment is just a symptom of a broader problem that our universities have and a culpability that universities have in continuing the climate crisis,” Kahloon added.

Following the disruption, the ExxonMobil recruiters stopped their presentation and left.

Alexia G. Leclercq, a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who attended the protest, described the disruption as “successful” and said she was glad the recruiters were able to hear the beginning of the speeches.

“It’s one of the strategies as part of our ongoing goal again for Harvard to cut all ties with the fossil fuel industry,” she said.

de Silva said she believes ExxonMobil uses recruitment events to rebrand its image in a dishonest way.

“When Exxon comes on campus and says they’re recruiting students so that they can change their brand, they’ve had countless opportunities to do so. And yet they still lobbied for protections against renewable energy transitions,” he said. “We have to own up to the fact that Exxon lies and big oil lies.”

Chu said he believes oil companies like ExxonMobil are trying to “profit from the destruction of our future.”

“They believe they can continue to exploit the environment and contribute to environmental destruction, get away with it, and allow that sort of narrative to propagate on campus,” Chu said.

Michael R. Waxman ’25 said he participated in the protest because he hopes to see universities give a “pedestal” to companies that will contribute to a more sustainable future.

“There’s so many young, talented people who can contribute to a more sustainable world, and that is not going to happen at Exxon,” Waxman said.

—Staff Writer Christie K. Choi can be reached at

—Staff Writer Carrie Hsu can be reached at

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