Three Harvard students huddle outside a tent in the middle of a deserted Harvard Yard facing the statue of John Harvard at midnight last semester.
Squatting beneath a banner emblazoned with “The Leadership Campaign”—a student-led effort to “repower” the state with clean electricity by 2020—the three look on as a Harvard University Police Department officer pulls up behind them.
After a brief conversation, the three pack up the tent and head back to their dorms.
The three students—members of Students for a Just and Stable Future, a statewide network of students pushing for The Leadership Campaign’s clean energy goals—have been organizing “sleep outs” in the Yard throughout the semester to protest the University’s use of “dirty energy.”
Though the “sleep outs” have gained little traction on its founding campus—last semester’s nighttime events attracted an average of five students—the campaign has recruited roughly 500 students, an estimated 200 of whom will camp out on Boston Common tonight to support the passage of a bill calling for the creation of a clean energy task force.
While the campaign has established its presence on college campuses across the state, Harvard SJSF members say that Harvard College administration’s resistance to their “sleep outs” has hurt the group’s ability to build a larger support community on campus.
The College does not allow SJSF to sleep in the Yard every week, SJSF spokesman Jonathan M.L. Rosenthal ’13 says as he folds up a tent pole, and HUPD asks the students to leave every time they attempt to camp out.
“But we’ll be back tomorrow night, and so will they,” Rosenthal says.
The 10 students actively involved with SJSF at Harvard continue to face outreach challenges without the backing of the administration.
Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds said in an interview this February that she could not allow SJSF to hold sleep outs due to the “safety and security” risk Harvard’s urban campus poses for students.
When asked what academic repercussions student protestors would face if arrested at a “sleep out” off campus, Secretary of the Administrative Board John “Jay” L. Ellison did not eliminate the possibility of Ad Board hearings.
Though Ellison stressed that there is no blanket policy requiring arrested students to appear before the Ad Board, he said in a Feb. interview that the College does review off-campus arrests.
“We would not go after a student for protesting,” Ellison said. “But if it’s illegal protesting, that’s different.”
Given the chance that the Boston police may file charges or even arrest tonight’s protestors for trespassing on Boston Common, Rosenthal says participating Harvard students will most likely spend the night in Church on the Hill near the Common instead.
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