Harvard Students Protest Endowment's Oil Investments

April 12, 2013

Students at Harvard University held a rally yesterday to put pressure on the administration to divest Harvard's $31 billion endowment from fossil fuel companies.

About 100 people rallied outside the brick building in Harvard Yard that houses the administrations’ offices, shouting "Divest Now!." Along with students, there were faculty and alumni in the crowd, including Unitarian minister and Harvard alum Fred Small.

"The American economy today is as fatally entangled in fossil fuels as it was in slavery in 1850, and the same folks who told us then that nothing could be done about it are telling us the same thing now," Small said.

Only two students were allowed past police officers and into the building. Their goal: to deliver signatures from 1,300 students and alumni to a university administrator.

The student-led campaign at Harvard is part of a divestiture movement on more than 200 college campuses nationwide. It was sparked, in large part, by an article in Rolling Stone magazine that went viral last summer. Written by environmentalist Bill McKibben, it outlined with urgency the perils of climate change.

As students chanted, Secretary of the University Marc Goodheart briefly stepped outside to accept the petition.

Harvard spokesperson Kevin Galvin said, in a statement e-mailed to WGBH after the rally, that Harvard is committed to sustainability, as well as ground-breaking research and education on climate change. But, he wrote, the university maintains a “strong presumption against divesting stock for reasons unrelated to investment purposes.”

Still, for students, the rally was a success. It even brought organizer Chloe Maxmin to tears.

"This is the first time that the administration is listening to our voice and are doing exactly what we say," Maxmin said. "They’re listening to our concerns. We just had a vice president of Harvard University come and accept our petition publicly."

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