Harvard GSD Student Forum puts forth divestment resolution

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Harvard GSD Student Forum recently passed a resolution that calls upon Harvard Management Company (HMC) to divest from “institutions and organizations that provide material assistance or support for the ongoing occupation of Palestine and the genocide of Palestinians.” 

The resolution, passed on April 15, marks the first instance in U.S. history where a school of architecture student government officially voted to divest from Israeli enterprises. “Under no circumstances should we be investing in war or systems of occupation. Full stop,” Cory Page, president of the GSD Student Forum, told AN.

Myriad student governments have also passed divestment resolutions from the Harvard Divinity School, Harvard Law School, and other campuses around the U.S. A watershed moment came on April 30 when Brown University students brokered a deal with President Christina Paxson. In Providence, Rhode Island, students agreed to vacate campus encampments if the governing body responsible for Brown’s $6.6 billion endowment votes on a proposal to divest from companies affiliated with the Israeli military, as reported by The Nation. 

Amid the GSD Student Forum’s resolution—and ongoing encampments at universities around the U.S. from CUNY to Cal Poly—Harvard President Alan Garber said he “will not entertain” demands for divestment, unlike Brown University administrators. Garber also recently admitted that he did not even know that Harvard University invested in Israel, according to The Harvard Crimson.

Fragmentation: Design and Counter-Design in Palestine
The roundtable Fragmentation: Design and Counter-Design in Palestine took place the same day the resolution was passed. (Courtesy Cory Page)

Today, HMC oversees a $50.7 billion portfolio, the largest university endowment in the United States. HMC presently refuses to disclose how it invests 97.7 percent of the university’s endowment, but a 2020 investigative report found that $194 million of HMC’s portfolio is tied up in enterprises connected with Israeli settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Another $86,625 from Harvard’s portfolio is linked to the Israeli military. 

Harvard GSD’s Student Forum consists of 11 student members that represent almost 1,000 graduate students and PhD candidates. The group is responsible for interfacing with the GSD administration, Harvard President Alan Garber, and the Harvard Graduate Council.

The resolution passed by the GSD Student Forum on April 15 demands that HMC “divest from institutions; weapons manufacturers; corporations; academic programs; built environment practices […]; and all other institutions that aid the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestine and the genocide of Palestinians.” The Student Forum’s resolution further stated that, under the auspices of an agreement HMC entered into in 2019, HMC is obligated to divest from the Israeli military. 

In 2014, Harvard became the first U.S. endowment fund to sign the UN Principles of Responsible Investment. Five years later, in 2019, HMC’s Committee on Shareholder Responsibility released an Anti-Genocide Policy which signaled its pledge to avoid doing business with “governments that are implicated in genocide or crimes against humanity.”

On January 26, the UN International Court of Justice found it plausible that Israel is committing genocide, and the state of South Africa has brought a genocide case against Israel with the assistance of Irish officials. Thus, the Student Forum is calling upon HMC to stay true to its pledge.

The day of the resolution’s passage, GSD students from the masters in landscape architecture concentration co-sponsored a roundtable discussion with Columbia University entitled Fragmentation: Design and Counter-Design in Palestine which invited scholars Nora Akawi, Rabea Eghbariah, Ali Hisham Musleh, and Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins to discuss the role that architecture plays in Palestine’s occupation by Israeli forces.

After the resolution was passed, the GSD Student Forum received a letter of support from 32 student organizations at Harvard thanking leadership for their efforts. In total, more than two dozen GSD campus groups like the African American Student Union, Jewish Students in Design, Future Architects of the Middle East, and Queers in Design supported the resolution.

protests at Columbia
Protest at Columbia University (Swinxy/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Page told AN that there is precedent for the student forum’s decision. In 1986, Harvard opted for a policy of “selective divestment” from companies with ties to the South African military. Then in 1990, Harvard cut ties with its tobacco stocks. Later, HMC made strides to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

In March 2023, five GSD landscape architecture students including Page visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian West Bank to see the settlements, and the armistice wall, to observe the forced displacement happening under the guise of national parks and land preservation, an experience which deeply impacted the divestment resolution, Page offered. “Many of the negative reactions, including the Dean’s, to the resolution have been focused on GSD students being social media influenced and unaware of the highly complicated issues on the ground.”

Moving forward, Page and the GSD Student Forum, along with the Harvard Graduate Council, hope to meet with Harvard leadership to discuss divestment resolutions and a vote.

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