The chants were offset by a two-beat clap: “Let’s go, Bulldogs!” and “Beat Yale!” echoed across the Yale Bowl, encouraged by cheerleaders on the sidelines. The two halves of our group, splintered by college allegiance, sat in the designated sections of the stands. The distance prevented us from nudging one another in the ribs in response to these hostilities, but we would have if it were physically possible.
The Harvard–Yale rivalry is hundreds of years old — but we woke up this morning sprawled on each other’s couches, in crimson hoodies but under navy blankets. We are the members of Divest Harvard and Fossil Free Yale — a nonhierarchical coalition of students, alumni, and community organizers who have come together to hold Yale and Harvard responsible for their complicity in the climate crisis. Affiliates of both schools put aside one of the fiercest antagonisms in college sports to organize Saturday’s action at “the Game,” the Harvard–Yale matchup that closes our football season. Hundreds of protesters from both universities occupied the field for close to 50 minutes after the halftime show, demanding accountability from the people who manage the $71 billion in endowment funds held by our two universities.
That’s more than the gross domestic product of 117 nations, per the International Monetary Fund’s 2019 estimates. These fortunes sustain our research, our financial aid, and our collegiate sports. They also perpetuate environmental and racial injustice.
We believe the status quo, in which our schools profit from fossil fuel extraction and extort communities on the front lines of the climate emergency, merits rising above an antiquated athletic rivalry. To that end, we took advantage of the visibility of the Game to advocate that Yale and Harvard divest from the fossil fuel industry and instruct their fund managers to cancel their holdings in Puerto Rico’s debt.
The unity of our coalition strengthens our intersectional demands. Our universities have taken advantage of predatory lending to Puerto Rico, which continues to exist as a quasi-colony of the United States in a highly unequal relationship. Hedge fund managers for our endowments have forced the island to prioritize paying back loans, many of which have been declared illegal, instead of repairing vital infrastructure that was destroyed by hurricanes Irma and Maria. Public services have been privatized and pensions have been cut to finance these loans, continuing austerity and impeding recovery — and even worse, preventing the preparations necessary for the next storm or flood. We know well the impact of these natural disasters was magnified by the effects of global warming.
It’s a vicious, ugly cycle, and one that often feels inescapable. But through collective action, we have found a powerful method of leveraging our privilege as Ivy Leaguers. As Yale and Harvard students, we share the trials of East Coast winters and an affection for pre-Modern architecture. But more importantly, we share disgust at our universities’ failures to disclose, divest, and ethically reinvest. We share a desire to push Yale and Harvard toward justice.
We also don’t see our affiliations with these universities and our desire to hold them to a higher standard as diametrically opposed. We’re joined in this view by many of the parties who would ostensibly be most distressed by our disruption. Harvard football captain Wesley Ogsbury and Yale defensive end Devin Moore have voiced support for our action, and we’ve received similar encouragement from members of the cheer squads and marching bands. (So do what you will with the Yale statement condemning our interference with our fellow students’ game day performances.)
The student bodies we represent know that business cannot go on as usual. Yale and Harvard switch hosting duties for the Game every year, a tradition that will perhaps be impaired by the fact that rising sea levels will likely flood Harvard Stadium within 60 years. Simply put, it’s unconscionable that Yale and Harvard are jeopardizing our futures for short-term economic gain, especially given the growing body of evidence that investments in the fossil fuel industry are risky, poorly performing assets.
Despite all this, conservative media has spent an exhaustive amount of time beating us up for being “snowflakes” and for crafting imaginary oppressions out of our privilege and entitlement.
That misses the point. Yes, we perceive climate change as a universal, existential threat. But we don’t believe for a second that we are the parties most imperiled by ecological collapse. (The ivory tower is a fairly good defense against rising tides.) Academic literature and the lived experiences of marginalized people, including many who are aligned with our coalition, demonstrate that disadvantaged groups suffer disproportionately from the adverse effects of climate change.
This weekend, we saw an opportunity to reach thousands of people, and together we took it. Our action gained the support of presidential candidates, leading environmental and political science scholars, and many of the influential youth activists who’ve inspired and informed our work. It prompted the first-ever use of the phrase “climate change” on SportsCenter, and it trended on Twitter and the r/news subreddit for hours.
As students and alumni of Yale and Harvard, we came to these institutions with the intention of challenging and learning from one another. Yesterday we rejected the sensationalism of our universities’ antagonism to protest their joint complicity in the climate crisis and the exploitation of Puerto Rico.
As a broad and diverse coalition, from New Haven to Cambridge and beyond, we have so much to work on as we continue learning from and cooperating with those on the front lines of this fight. So, Yale, Harvard, and similarly positioned institutions: Listen to us. Until you do, nobody wins.
Divest Harvard and Fossil Free Yale are part of a coalition to hold Yale and Harvard responsible for their complicity in the climate crisis.