Demanding Divestment, Protesters Occupy Mass. Hall

Divest Group Rushed Central Administration Office Building Around 10 a.m.

UPDATED: February 13, 2015, at 2:14 a.m.

Roughly 20 students remained in Massachusetts Hall, home to the office of University President Drew G. Faust, late Thursday night after a group of more than 30 stormed and occupied the building that morning, demanding that Harvard divest its $35.9 billion endowment from fossil fuels.

Though the group, Divest Harvard, detailed plans on Thursday night for a Friday afternoon rally outside of Mass. Hall, co-coordinator Talia K. Rothstein '17 said that the remaining protesters had no immediate plans to leave the building.

The occupation began Thursday morning at about 10 a.m. when more than 30 members of Divest, many dressed in orange, entered the building and followed an administrator through a door that would otherwise have been locked. Once inside Mass. Hall’s first floor hallway, which contains the offices of Faust, Provost Alan. M. Garber ’76, and others, the protesters quickly hoisted a banner calling on Harvard to divest.

By 10:10 a.m., a receptionist had called the Harvard University Police and officers had arrived at Mass. Hall.

After the protesters settled in, chronicling their entrance on social media along the way, Faust offered to meet with protesters at a location outside of the building, but only on the condition that the protesters leave, according to Jeff Neal, her spokesperson.

Divest Protest in Mass Hall
Canyon S. Woodward '15 of Divest Harvard hangs a banner during a protest in Massachusetts Hall. A group of students rushed into the building that houses the University president's office this morning.

The group refused. Instead they offered counterproposals, including meeting with Faust inside Mass. Hall or sending two delegates to another location for the meeting and leaving the rest of the group inside the hallway.

Divest Harvard member Canyon S. Woodward ’15 said the occupation plan had been in the works since last fall, but he would not say how long the protesters, who were accompanied by a filmmaker, planned to stay.

“We’re trying to put as much pressure on them as possible,” Woodward said Thursday morning. “We are going to reiterate our call for divestment—we’re no longer settling for a meeting—we have to take action now.”

Officials have not made the extended stay comfortable. Sometime in the early afternoon, HUPD officers blocked the only bathroom the protesters had access to and encouraged the Divest Harvard group to use one elsewhere, according to Rothstein. Rothstein said some protesters had brought diapers.

As the sit-in wore on, Divest’s continued presence brought reactions from the administration. In an emailed statement Thursday afternoon, Neal wrote that while administrators respect the activists’ views, they are “deeply disappointed” in the protestors’ decision to occupy Mass. Hall, which he called “disrespectful and coercive interference.”

“Today and in the future, our students will be treated with the respect they have chosen not to accord those who work in the building,” Neal added.

Divest Harvard responded with a group statement in the late afternoon, writing that the group was “saddened by [Faust’s] characterization of our action when we are continuing a legacy of civil disobedience that has brought real change to our university.”

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