Undergraduate Protester Arrested for Blocking Entrance to Mass. Hall

Harvard Spokesperson Says University, HUPD Will Not Press Charges

UPDATED: May 2, 2014, at 9:52 p.m.

Brett A. Roche ’15, a member of the environmental activist group Divest Harvard, was arrested by Harvard University Police around 7:15 a.m. Thursday morning for blocking an entrance to Massachusetts Hall, home to the offices of University President Drew G. Faust and members of the central administration.

University spokesperson Kevin Galvin wrote in a statement early Thursday afternoon that HUPD and the University decided not to press charges against Roche and that he was released from custody earlier in the day.

Roche had been guarding the door throughout the night as part of Divest Harvard’s Day of Action to demand an open meeting with the Harvard Corporation on the issue of divestment.

Before 6 a.m., eight students rotated shifts so that at least two were present for the blockade at all times. At 6 a.m., more supporters arrived, including environmental activist Bob Massie and Harvard’s Quaker Chaplain John Bach, to physically take part in the protest.

Divest Action
Divest Harvard activists blockaded one of the entrances in front of Massachusetts Hall to protest against the University's continued investment in various fossil fuel companies.

Unlike on Wednesday, when the student protesters blockaded only the main entrance to the building and police said they did not consider the protesters disruptive because other entrances to the building remained accessible, they began blocking all three entrances to Massachusetts Hall starting at 6 a.m. on Thursday morning.

According to Divest Harvard member Benjamin Franta, a graduate student in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Faust’s senior special assistant, Lars P.K. Madsen, was hindered from entering the building when he arrived for work around 7 a.m.

HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano confirmed that an employee attempted to gain entry using different entrances to Massachusetts Hall, and when the officers requested Roche to move, he was instructed that a failure to comply would result in his arrest.

“The individual again refused to move and held onto the door handle of the building to deny access to the building,” Catalano wrote. “The individual was subsequently placed under arrest.”

Roche said that his arrest and interactions with the police were “very civil.” He added that he would have appreciated if Madsen had directly approached him rather than “sending HUPD to tell me to move.”

“The fact that I wasn’t even spoken to at the door, that microscopic example of [the administration] avoiding interaction with the students, upset me a bit,” Roche said. “What we’re trying to do out there was show the administration that this is something that should be expected of them. They should be expected to listen to and engage with their students.”

According to Roche, after being taken to HUPD headquarters and processed, he arrived at a courthouse in Medford, Mass. around 10 a.m., was put in a holding cell, and met with a judge in trial who dismissed the case.

The remaining protesters continued the blockade for about an hour before disbanding. Franta said that the University police controlled the Massachusetts Hall door after the arrest, so individuals were then able to enter and exit freely.

“We were disappointed that the University would rather arrest one of its own students than have a open dialogue on divestment,” Franta said.

Galvin, for his part, wrote that the University “welcomes the exchange of ideas and respects the rights of individuals to air differing views. At the same time, we put a premium on respecting the rights of individuals to carry out their duties to the institution.”

—Staff writer Amna H. Hashmi can be reached at amnahashmi@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @amna_hashmi.

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