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Divest Harvard Ends Heat Week with Warning of 'Planetary Selma'

Academic Cornel West challenges Harvard president: 'We now have a planetary Selma. We want you on the right side.'

Divest Harvard members protest as President Drew Faust arrives to give a speech. (Photo: Divest Harvard/Facebook)

A week of civil disobedience, rallies, and student activism, all aimed at pressuring Harvard University to divest its $36 billion endowment from fossil fuels, came to an end on Friday with activist and academic Cornel West saying the elite school risked being on the wrong side of the "planetary Selma" that is climate change.

"Ecological catastrophe is as evil as white supremacist catastrophe, anti-Jewish catastrophe, anti-gay catastrophe, anti-Muslim catastrophe," West reportedly said to loud applause at a Divest Harvard protest on Friday.

Addressing Harvard president Drew Faust, and echoing the divestment movement's "Whose Side Are You On?" rallying cry, West continued: "Doctor Faust, we now have a planetary Selma. We want you on the right side."

In an email sent Thursday, Faust informed student leaders of Divest Harvard that she would be happy to meet—in private and off the record—if the group ended its week-long blockade of the university's main administrative building and stopped "disrupting" business as usual on campus. The students were not swayed.

As Harvard's student newspaper, The Crimson, reported:

Chloe S. Maxmin ’15, the group’s co-founder, responded to Faust's email by requesting a meeting with Faust as well as the Harvard Corporation "to formally negotiate divestment."

Faust wrote back Thursday night and criticized the group for "the substantial disruption your activities have caused." Faust wrote, however, that she remains willing to meet with the protesters. 

In an interview Thursday night, Maxmin called Faust's original message more of the same and said the group was not satisfied.

"We've been to Faust’s office hours many many times over the past three years, and we've valued those opportunities to engage with her, but those conversations have not been productive," Maxmin said on Thursday night. "It is frustrating to hear the same statement and to have the same conversation over and over again."

But that frustration did little to tamp down the protesters' resolve.

"Divest Harvard has already mobilized over 1000 students, faculty, alumni, and community members, and some have traveled across the country to stand in solidarity," the group declared in a statement on Wednesday. "Despite this massive outpouring of support, the administration has chosen to hide from our voices, treating this growing coalition of support for divestment from fossil fuels as temporary. But we are committed to fighting for a more just future and to making this institution accountable to its students."

And the Guardian noted that the campaign "did pick up one important endorsement this week"—that of Kat Taylor, one of the university's overseers and CEO of Beneficial State Bank. Taylor wrote in a statement: "I am signing the divest letter as part of the ongoing efforts to encourage a full and transparent debate about how Harvard should lead on climate across all of its activities—research, teaching, campus practices, and investments."

She joined not only a vocal group of Harvard students and alumni, but a growing, student-led movement that is sweeping the nation during this 'Divestment Spring.'

Follow the final actions of Harvard's Heat Week on Twitter:

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