HSPH Students Call on Harvard to Divest From Israel in Referendum Marked by Low Turnout


More than 80 percent of Harvard School of Public Health students who participated in a referendum marked by low voter turnout supported a motion to call on the University to disclose and divest from Israel, according to a May 28 open letter addressed to Harvard’s leadership.

Of the 270 voting students, 220 were in favor of the motion that the Harvard Management Company and affiliated organizations should disclose and divest from investments that “aid the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestine.” Of the remaining 50 students, 44 voted to “disagree” and 6 to abstain.

“At recent listening sessions hosted by the school, at student body meetings, and through a university wide petition – many students in our Harvard Chan community have articulated how the situation in Gaza constitutes an issue of health equity and public health importance,” the letter stated.

HSPH spokesperson Stephanie Simon wrote in an emailed statement that “the vote, which was not a formal referendum, was taken in late May, after the academic year ended.” It was also marked by poor turnout, with less than 20 percent of the student body participating.


The vote comes following similar initiatives across student governments at Harvard Law School, Divinity School, and Graduate School of Design in the last few months. A referendum brought to the Harvard Undergraduate Association — the College’s student government — was postponed indefinitely after two officers used an obscure procedural motion to delay the vote.

Harvard has repeatedly rebuffed calls to boycott Israel and its academic institutions.

In a 9-page report shared with HSPH and University leadership following the vote, the Harvard Chan Student Association, which organized the referendum, acknowledged the vote’s limitations — including timing, lack of opportunity for discussion, and low voter turnout.

Still, HCSA noted that student participation in the referendum — at 18.83 percent — exceeded that of the four most recent HCSA elections, which averaged 12.25 percent.

In the report, HCSA also urged HSPH to create “more forums for open discussion to allow students to express their views and engage in constructive dialogue.”

“In light of strong emotions on this issue Harvard T. H. Chan school should make student leaders, faculty and administrators available to help facilitate such conversations,” the report stated.

—Staff writer Veronica H. Paulus can be reached at Follow her on X @VeronicaHPaulus.

—Staff writer Akshaya Ravi can be reached at Follow her on X @akshayaravi22.