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Divest Harvard Jumpstarts Recruitment of New Freshmen Activists

Members of Divest Harvard raised a banner calling on Harvard to divest its endowment from fossil fuel industries during University President Lawrence S. Bacow's Convocation address Monday.
Members of Divest Harvard raised a banner calling on Harvard to divest its endowment from fossil fuel industries during University President Lawrence S. Bacow's Convocation address Monday. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Alexandra A. Chaidez, Crimson Staff Writer

Amid summer internships and vacations, members of Divest Harvard spent the summer recruiting incoming freshmen for climate activism during the school year.

Since the semester began, several of these new students have started organizing with Divest Harvard — a group that advocates for the University to divest its endowment holdings in the fossil fuel industry — most recently with a protest at Freshman Convocation Monday. During the event, upperclassmen held up banners, and freshmen raised orange signs calling for divestment during University President Lawrence S. Bacow’s speech.

Martha J. Denton ’23, who helped with the convocation protest, said she joined Divest Harvard because she sees divestment as an effective mechanism for combating climate change.

“One thing that was really, really pushed during orientation is that we are Harvard — like the students are what makes Harvard — so we have a right and an obligation to push for what's right,” Denton said. “And I think divestment is one of the best tactics to combat climate change.”

Over the summer, Divest Harvard arranged a conference call for new students interested in joining their ranks. Divest Harvard member Claire E. Pryor ’22, one of the organizers on the call, said the group wanted to build a base of new members to take part in early advocacy efforts and recruit them before they filled their schedules.

“Summer is a really good time to get people organized and thinking about the kind of activism they're going to be doing in the upcoming year,” Pryor said.

“Incoming first years, in particular, aren't doing much,” she added. “They’re getting ready and excited for the school year. They're thinking a lot about what their life is going to be like at Harvard. It's a pretty optimal time for us to reach out to them and ask if they're interested in being involved with divestment activism.”

Pryor said she believes the group succeeded in this early recruitment by creating a “really, really solid base” of freshmen interested in fossil fuel divestment.

Henry N. Lear ’23, a student who took part in the summer call, said he first became aware of Divest Harvard during Visitas, the College’s annual admitted students weekend. At the time Lear was touring the College, Divest Harvard was hosting Heat Week, a week filled with panels and discussions about climate change that culminated in a rally in Harvard Yard.

“On my first day, I was walking through Tercentenary Theater, and there was an enormous demonstration full of people and signs and you know, just this huge kind of unavoidable sight,” Lear said. “It illustrated to me what climate activism looks like on campus and then also a clear way to get involved.”

Both Lear and Denton said that freshmen are particularly interested in joining Divest Harvard because of escalating climate issues and the impact climate change is expected to have on their futures.

“For the University to be complicit in something that's going to affect me, my peers and future generations hurts in a way,” Lear said. “I want to open up that dialogue, and I want to say to this administration that there is a clear path of action here.”

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an emailed statement that Bacow, members of the Harvard Corporation, and other administrators have met with members of Divest Harvard and will continue to engage with them in the future.

Newton also referenced the University’s Climate Action Plan, which commits the school to being be fossil fuel-neutral by 2026 and fossil fuel-free by 2050, and noted that Harvard is tackling the issue of climate change through its scholarship and teaching instead of divestment.

“As it has done for well over a decade, the University will continue to support its faculty, students and staff as they pursue a range of innovative and ambitious efforts to accelerate the world’s transition to renewable sources of energy and to help mitigate the catastrophic consequences of climate change that are already being realized,” Newton wrote.

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.

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