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Divest Harvard Protesters Occupy University Hall

Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard occupied University Hall on Thursday afternoon, singing and chanting in support of divestment by Earth Day 2020.
Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard occupied University Hall on Thursday afternoon, singing and chanting in support of divestment by Earth Day 2020. By Jenny M. Lu
By Ellen M. Burstein, Crimson Staff Writer

Protesters from Divest Harvard occupied University Hall Thursday afternoon as part of a rally held in celebration of the National Day of Divestment.

Protesters remained in the building for an hour. In a closing statement, Divest Harvard member Joseph Winters announced that the University faces a deadline of Earth Day — April 22 — to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Divestment organizers said they would continue to advocate daily for their cause.

“Every day until then and every single day after, if you do not listen, we’ll keep coming back to make our call: disclose, divest, or this movement will not rest!” Winters said.

Inside the administrative building, organizers handed out packets with poems about divestment and statements from Harvard faculty in support of their cause.

“When our air is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back,” the group chanted.

“Harvard, step off it, put people over profit,” they added.

Protesters took turns reading statements from the packet, including a statement of support from Philosophy Department Chair Edward J. Hall and a poem entitled “Earthrise” by inaugural U.S. youth poet laureate Amanda S. C. Gorman ’20.

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on the protest, referring comment made by University President Lawrence S. Bacow at a faculty meeting earlier this week.

“I am confident that the Corporation will give it the thought and consideration it deserves,” Bacow said.

Over the past year, the group has become increasingly vocal in demanding that the Harvard Corporation — Harvard’s highest governing body — divest the University’s endowment from fossil fuels; student activists have organized numerous public demonstrations, even interrupting an event at the Kennedy School of Government that featured Bacow himself.

Last week, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences endorsed fossil fuel divestment in a 179-20 vote, with many professors citing a belief that climate change is among the most pressing issues Harvard must face.

Divest Harvard made national news in November when demonstrators occupied the field during halftime at The Game, calling on Harvard and Yale to divest from the fossil fuel industry and from Puerto Rican debt.

Divest Harvard did not respond to a request for comment.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, whose office occupies part of the building’s ground floor, observed the protest from the steps of the building.

Protesters held signs with slogans in support of fossil fuel divestment, including a poster that read “It’s time to break up Larry and Fossil Fuels.”

Several alumni joined the demonstration. Former divestment organizer Canyon Woodward ’15 said that it was his birthday and that this protest marked the five-year anniversary of a 24-hour occupation of Mass. Hall. The protesters, joined by Khurana, proceeded to sing him happy birthday.

As the protesters walked out into the Yard, Khurana shook hands with one demonstrator. He said in an interview with The Crimson that he came to the protest to “listen.”

“I'm here to listen,” Khurana said. “And I think listening respectfully and toward understanding is a really important part of what we do at the College.”

—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla contributed reporting.

—Staff writer Ellen M. Burstein can be reached at ellen.burstein@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ellenburstein.

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