Members of Divest Harvard have shown support and offered protest models for Fossil Free MIT, a student activist group that recently completed a 116-day sit-in to urge the MIT administration to end its investment in the fossil fuel industry.
Over the course of the past few months, members of Fossil Free MIT staged an ongoing sit-in in the hallway outside MIT President L. Rafael Reif’s Office. On March 1, the organization came to an agreement with the MIT administration on climate action moving forward, bringing the sit-in to an end, according to a press release from Fossil Free MIT.
In their efforts to adopt a more assertive approach, the student activists at MIT looked to Divest Harvard on how to frame their most recent demonstration, Fossil Free treasurer Benjamin Scandella said.
“We were inspired by the work that’s been done at Harvard. At the same time we wanted to make sure that we didn’t get completely shut out by administration at MIT,” he said. “We wanted to be careful about stepping into more direct activism in a way that would allow us to keep talking with them.”
Last year, students in Divest Harvard staged a week long blockade of Massachusetts Hall, which houses University President Drew G. Faust's office, in order to urge the University to take out its investments in fossil fuels. They have also previously occupied Mass. Hall.
According to Divest Harvard board member Benjamin Franta, Divest visited the sit-in a few times to offer support, even though MIT administrators did not allow non-MIT students to participate in the demonstration. While Fossil Free and Divest have never officially collaborated, both groups often coordinate with each other and show up to each other’s events in solidarity, Franta said.
Fanta said the tactics of each group normally differ because he believes that MIT’s administration, up until recently, has been more open to working with students than Harvard's.
Faust herself has expressed commitment to climate change research and offers funding for faculty engaging in such research. However, she has repeatedly argued against divestment, saying such a move would politicize Harvard's endowment. Last spring, she offered to meet with members of Divest Harvard on the condition they end their blockade, but the group refused.
Scandella said while the MIT student activists are proud of the progress they made at the school, they are still not completely satisfied with the agreement reached, in part because it did not stipulate that the university would remove its investments in fossil fuels.
Applied physics professor David Keith, who supports Divest Harvard, said that universities like Harvard and MIT could use their shareholding and connections with fossil fuel companies to push much harder than they currently are to stop lobbying against climate change legislation.
“The power of institutions like MIT and Harvard to set the public discourse is important,” he said.
—Staff writer Ifeoluwa T. Obayan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @itobayan.