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Activists Kick Off Week-Long Fast for Divestment

By Theodore R. Delwiche, Crimson Staff Writer

Dozens of members of the Harvard community will not be swiping into dining halls this week as they participate in Divest Harvard’s week of fasting.

The initiative, which lasts from Oct. 20 to Oct. 24, seeks to draw attention to Harvard’s continued investment of portions of its $36.4 billion endowment in fossil fuel companies and promote discussion about climate change.

Around noon each day this week, Divest Harvard members have organized gatherings in the section of the Yard facing Massachusetts Hall. Events include talks from professors, politicians, and activists.

“I am going to ask you to applaud the young people and the brave at heart who are fasting. They are doing this to emphasize that what we are facing is a planetary emergency,” History of Science lecturer Soha Bayoumi said to a crowd of about 20 people at the beginning of Monday’s demonstration.

Bayoumi went on to talk about “planet-destroying industries” and the need for the University to divest so that “when change comes, Harvard will not be on the wrong side of history.”

According to Chloe S. Maxmin ’15, one of Divest Harvard’s co-founders, about 160 individuals had signed up for the event via an online form by Monday afternoon. Students can choose to fast from one to three days, drinking only water for the period of the time during which they fast.

Maxmin said that she does not encourage anyone to fast for more than three days and that Divest Harvard has reached out to the Eating Concerns Hotline and Outreach as well as University Health Services to ensure that participants fast safely.

In addition to events outside of Mass. Hall, Divest Harvard members plan to hold dinners, during which students can end their fasts, in various dining halls throughout the week. Students who do not wish to fast can also sponsor a faster, expressing solidarity with demonstrators.

Naima P. Drecker-Waxman ’18, a Divest member and participant in the fast, said that the week’s events provide students an opportunity to engage openly with the movement and put pressure on the University to divest.

“I think it’s a great way to start the dialogue on campus for freshmen who hadn’t seen the blockade or discussion on campus,” Drecker-Waxman said, referring to Divest Harvard’s activism on campus last academic year.

Ashford L. King ’15 and Axel K. Snow ’15, both members of student band The Cantab Cowboys, performed environmentally-themed songs during the kickoff event Monday.

Previously, Divest Harvard has had contentious interactions with the University, including the arrest of Divest member Brett A. Roche ’15 during a blockade of Mass. Hall last May. Maxmin said that Divest does not plan to hold any events during the week that would lead to an arrest. Still, two Harvard University Police Department officers stood outside of Mass. Hall while the kickoff event took place.

When asked about HUPD’s presence outside of Mass. Hall this week in light of the fast, spokesperson Steven. G. Catalano wrote in an email that HUPD cannot discuss security measures and staffing levels.

University President Drew G. Faust has said repeatedly that the University will not divest, writing in Oct. 2013 that such a decision would be neither "warranted or wise." Faust has argued that divestment would improperly politicize the endowment and draw attention from University research efforts meant to address climate change.

—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @trdelwic.

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