By Ilana Cohen | November 5, 2018
They had been camped outside University Hall since 5 a.m. Charged with cups of Dunkin Donuts coffee, the student activists of Divest Harvard managed to block the entrance to the building for a full day of classes on March 29, 2017. The rally they staged that afternoon represented the culmination of a five-year-campaign for the divestment of the University’s $37.1 billion endowment from the fossil fuel industry. With thousands of educational institutions worldwide already divesting—the number reached 8,700 in 2018—the student activists were certain that the time had come for Harvard to take action of its own.
When Harvard Management Company’s Head of Natural Resources Colin Butterfield announced a “pause” in investments in minerals, oil, and gas less than one month later, divestment seemed tangible at last. Recent graduate and Divest Harvard Co-Founder Chloe Maxmin framed the decision as part of a “profound power-shift taking hold of our country.”
But was divestment really won? Maxmin now considers her enthusiasm premature. Since Butterfield’s announcement and the graduation of Divest Harvard’s core class of activists that year, the group has existed in name only. Talk of divestment has virtually disappeared from campus despite the University’s continued ties to the fossil fuel industry. The preemptive declaration of victory, following years of administrative resistance and growing student disillusionment, marked the death of the divestment movement. However, with the arrival of a new President and freshman class, there remains hope for the movement’s revival.