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Harvard Undergraduate Council Endorses Prison Divestment Petition and Heat Week

UC first meeting Smith Center
The Undergraduate Council meets in the Smith Campus Center.

The Undergraduate Council voted to pass resolutions on climate change and prison divestment, establish a summer storage option, and fund Black Graduation at its general meeting Saturday.

The UC voted to endorse Heat Week, a series of events co-sponsored by Harvard Undergraduates for Environmental Justice and Divest Harvard that aims to “draw attention to the severity of the climate crisis and raise the call for Harvard to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry,” according to HUEJ’s website.

UC President Sruthi Palaniappan ’20 and Vice President Julia M. Huesa ’20 sponsored the bill, which requires the UC to endorse and publicize Heat Week, as well as support a public forum on the issue of divesting Harvard’s nearly $40 billion endowment from companies related to the fossil fuel industry.

The duo noted 71.5 percent of voters said they support fossil fuel divestment on a referendum included as a part of the November UC presidential election.

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Oak Yard Representative A. Blake Barclay ’22 said he did not support Heat Week, saying that while he “cares deeply” about climate change, he does not believe divestment of the University’s endowment is the proper action. He referred to a Crimson editorial encouraging students to vote against divestment referenda.

Huesa responded that the legislation does not support divestment, but rather Heat Week, which is an opportunity to “talk about climate change.”

The last time Divest Harvard held Heat Week in 2015, activists blockaded Massachuestts Hall and University Hall and occupied the Harvard Alumni Headquarters. For this year's iteration of of Heat Week, student protesters called on University President Lawrence S. Bacow to attend a public forum on fossil fuel divestment. Bacow declined the students' request Wednesday.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on the Council’s endorsement of Heat Week.

The council also passed a bill to support a petition by the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign. Oak Yard Representative Drake E. Johnson ’22 sponsored the legislation.

The bill requires the UC to publicize the HPDC petition that calls on the University to divest its nearly $40 billion endowment from the prison industry, and will recognize the Council as an endorser of the petition.

In the same referendum that included the issue of fossil fuel divestment, 77.2 percent of voters indicated they support prison divestment.

Dunster House Representative Victor C. Agbafe ’19 said he supports the legislation because the UC should represent its voters, and the majority of voters said they wanted to support the campaign.

Barclay said he does not think the bill is the best way to move forward, since supporting the resolution may associate the council with HDPC’s actions.

“I don’t think that we, as the UC, should be taking such overt stances on such political issues,” he added.

Swain referred to previous statements on divestment in response to the legislation.

“The University’s position, as it has stated previously, is that it should not use the endowment to achieve political ends, or particular policy ends,” Swain wrote in an emailed statement.

The Council voted to endorse the petition, 17-8-1.

The resolution passed, 17-8.

The UC also allocated $13,000 to launch a summer storage initiative for students. The council will rent a warehouse in Boston and provide movers to transport student items from campus to the warehouse and back.

Currently, five upperclassmen houses — Dunster, Leverett, Mather, Quincy, and Winthrop — do not offer free or subsidized summer storage for their students, and the UC’s program will allow students from those houses to use the space.

The UC will select 500 students on a “first-come-first-serve” basis, according to the legislation proposal, with preference to students who are eligible for the Student Events Fund and live far from campus. Each student will be able to store 4 boxes for a total of $15.

UC Treasurer Jack M. Swanson ’22 and six representatives sponsored the legislation.

The initiative was inspired by the results of a UC survey sent to students from upperclassmen houses without summer storage. Roughly half of more than 500 respondents — most of whom were first-generation, low-income, or international college students —gave anecdotal evidence that storage was a cause for concern, according to Quincy House Representative Rushi A. Patel ’21.

The group attempted to negotiate funding from the administration, as well as initiate a program that allows some students to access summer storage in another House that offers it, but both proposals failed, according to Patel. As a result, the group proposed to use UC money to rent a storage space.

The UC passed the bill by unanimous consent.

The UC also funded several student initiatives at its meeting Saturday. In particular, the UC allocated $4,250 for Black Graduation, a ceremony that the Black Graduation Committee holds to “support its black students that are graduating,” according to Agbafe’s act.

The funds would be used towards renting Memorial Church for the venue and supporting the speaker — actress and singer Tatyana M. Ali ’02 — according to Agbafe.

The resolution to fund Black Graduation passed the Council, 23-1-1.

— Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at kevin.chen@thecrimson.com.

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