The students of the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign (HPDC) and Harvard Divest upstaged Harvard President Larry Bacow at the “Conversation with Lawrence S. Bacow” event. The protestors occupied the stage and held up signs to protest the Harvard’s investments in the prison-industrial complex and in the fossil fuel industry. The signs stated slogans such as “Harvard is a leader in profiting from prisons” and “Larry, Lead by Example: Divest from Prisons”.
The protestors in the audience stood up and chanted, “Disclose, Divest, or this movement will not rest!” Protestors in the audience also handed out literature explaining the campaign to audience members. The flyer read, “Why should the funding for our educations depend upon how many immigrants ICE detains or how many TASERS the police buy? It absolutely should not.”
A few students on the second floor also unfurled a banner that said “Divest Harvard”. Douglas Elmendorf, the Dean of the Kennedy School and emcee of the event, ordered that the students to move to the back of the room. After a few moments, President Bacow stood up and addressed the protestors. “I can tell you as I’ve said in other places, that I respond to reason not pressure,” Bacow stated over the sounds of campus security walkie-talkies. “You’re not making any friends or allies in the audience by virtue of the way you choose to express your belief.”
The protestors began chanting again. They chanted until Bacow left the room, as well as his co-speaker Dean Terry Long of the School of Education, and the rest of the audience. One audience member began shouting at one of the student protestors. “You have no respect. You should be suspended,” he said before ripping up a flyer and throwing at the students. Another woman told the protestors to “shut up.”
“We’re embarrassed that Bacow thinks being polite is more important than Black people’s lives,” said Anna Nathanson, a 2nd year student at Harvard Law School. “Leadership means knowing what’s actually important.”
In early March, the students delivered a petition with over 3,400 signatures to President Bacow detailing HPDC’s demand. These demands include to 1) Publicly disclose and release endowment holdings in all funds with stock in companies whose existence depends on the prison-industrial complex, and to 2) Apportion a significant percentage of divested funds towards companies, organizations, and initiatives in Cambridge and Boston that are led by people directly impacted by the prison-industrial complex.
“Bacow likes to talk about Harvard being a leader, but that’s just PR.” said Paul Clarke, a doctoral student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. “Without a radical shift, people are going to start recognizing Harvard for what it is — an extremely rich institution filling its pockets through the exploitation of incarcerated people.”