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UPDATED: March 30, 2017 at 12:04 p.m.
Around 20 members of Divest Harvard blockaded entrances to University Hall Wednesday in protest of Harvard’s stance on investing in the coal industry.
The students blocked entrances to the building, which houses dozens of the University’s top administrators including Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith. At 4:30 p.m., around 30 people gathered for a rally in Harvard Yard before the protesters dispersed for the day.
“We are just going to shut down business as usual,” Isa C. Flores-Jones ’19, a member of the group, said at the start of the day. Several Harvard University Police Department officers maintained a presence near University Hall and Massachusetts Hall as the blockade continued through the afternoon.
The environmental activism group is demanding a “moratorium” on Harvard’s investments in the coal industry and for a University-wide meeting to discuss general fossil fuel divestment. Harvard does not currently have any investments in coal for financial reasons, though it has not ruled out re-investing in the future.
At the blockade and in materials disseminated to press, the group repeatedly referenced President Donald Trump’s administration, which earlier this week announced plans to unravel the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era federal policy that requires power plants to drastically reduce their carbon emissions. Divest called Harvard’s continued investment in the fossil fuel industry an “implicit encouragement of Trump’s dirty energy agenda” in a statement.
Disagreement exists over what role the University should take in combating climate change, University spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga wrote in a statement on the blockade.
“Universities like Harvard have a crucial role to play in tackling climate change and Harvard is fully committed to leadership in this area through research, education, community engagement, and dramatically reducing its own carbon footprint,” she wrote.
University President Drew G. Faust has also repeatedly echoed that objection, arguing that Harvard can better combat climate change through its research and that divestment could harm the health of the University’s $35.7 billion endowment, which drew paltry returns on its investments in fiscal year 2016.
Divest originally planned to blockade Massachusetts Hall—which houses the offices of Faust and other administrators—last week. Divest postponed the demonstration until this week.
Protesters took to the Yard before dawn Wednesday morning amid brisk temperatures and a steady misting of rain, equipped with blankets and warm drinks. They stayed there throughout the day, occasionally chatting with passing tourists and supportive faculty members.
“We’re here because fundamentally coal and fossil fuels are not the future,” Jonah C. Hahn ’17 said to the a crowd at the late-afternoon rally. “We’re here because Harvard as an institution is better than profiting from the degradation of our planet.”
The inhabitants of University Hall were notified of the blockade around 7:30 a.m., according to College spokesperson Rachael Dane, t Khurana spent most of the day working out of Cafe Rojo Gato in Harvard Yard, and Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair worked from Mather House, according to Dane.
Wednesday’s blockade is not the first time Divest Harvard protesters have obstructed University buildings. In 2015, members of the group occupied Massachusetts Hall for a week, demanding the University divest from all fossil fuels. In April 2016, police arrested four members of the group demonstrating at Harvard Management Company’s Boston offices.
—Staff writers Graham W. Bishai, Julia E. Debenedictis, Mia C. Karr, and Kenton K. Shimozaki contributed reporting.
—Staff writer Brandon J. Dixon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonJoDixon.
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