For over a decade, student groups have worked to advance fossil fuel divestment at Harvard by meeting with University presidents and holding demonstrations in Harvard Yard. With Friday's election of three Harvard Forward candidates to the Board of Overseers, three of their own will sit on the University’s second-highest governing body.
Jayson U. Toweh, Margaret “Midge” Purce ’17, and Dorothy “Thea” L. Sebastian ’08, three of Harvard Forward’s endorsed candidates, won seats on the Board of Overseers Friday. Harvard Forward — a group pushing for divestment and student representation on the school’s governance boards — cited the last successful petition campaign for a spot on the board, which saw Archbishop Desmond Tutu win a seat in 1989.
In an email to supporters, the group added that they are “thrilled” three of their candidates were elected.
“This was truly a team effort,” they wrote. “While John Beatty and Lisa Bi Huang were unfortunately not elected, they played a massive part in this successful campaign, and we are so proud of all of our candidates and supporters for the work they've put in.”
University spokesperson Christopher M. Hennessy declined to comment on the election, referring to previous comments on divestment from University President Lawrence S. Bacow regarding the school’s relationship to fossil fuel companies. In a message to affiliates in April, Bacow urged cooperation between the school and these companies to counter the negative impact of climate change.
“We cannot risk alienating and demonizing possible partners, some of which have committed to transitioning to carbon neutrality and to funding research on alternative fuels and on strategies to decarbonize the economy,” Bacow wrote in April.
Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard, a student group pushing Harvard to divest from fossil fuels and an early endorser of the Harvard Forward candidates, celebrated the results in a Medium post.
“This monumental election victory illustrates a clear desire among the Harvard community for change and an institution that represents the diversity of its current alumni and generations to come,” the group wrote. “It also represents a clear mandate from the voting Harvard alumni body for these Overseers-elect to advocate strongly for fossil fuel divestment, a central issue of their campaign.”
In its post, Divest Harvard organizers criticized previous climate decisions by Harvard’s administration, including its commitment to making its endowment greenhouse gas-neutral by 2050. Organizers wrote that the results “provide hope” that the University will take further action to mitigate the consequences of climate change.
“In the coming years, this new board has a chance to change the University’s direction and put it on the right side of history,” they wrote. “We congratulate all newly elected Overseers, and look forward to working with new and current members of university administration and governance who recognize the urgent need for change.”
Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign, a group advocating for the University to divest in any companies tied to the prison industry, congratulated the newly-elected members of Harvard Forward in a series of tweets.
“There will never be a more urgent time to challenge Harvard’s role in the harm prisons and policing cause to poor communities, and especially to poor Black communities. We hope you will hold this commitment close to your hearts,” they wrote.
“We look forward to working with the Overseers to divest Harvard from the immoral and racist prison-industrial complex,” the group added in a statement.
—Staff writer Ellen M. Burstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ellenburstein
—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.