WHY WE'RE RUNNING FOR THE HARVARD BOARD OF OVERSEERS 

December 19, 2020

Dear Harvard Alumni,

In the few years since we received our Harvard degrees, multiple crises at the intersection of our personal and professional lives remind us that our responsibility to advocate for a more just and sustainable future extends far beyond Harvard Square. That’s why we’re running for the Harvard Board of Overseers on a platform of climate action, racial justice, inclusive governance, and socially responsible investing – to make sure that Harvard lives up to its values and to the responsibilities that come with its vast influence.

 

An educator and Indigenous activist, Megan witnesses daily how the pandemic is affecting Native communities in her home state of South Dakota, which has one of the highest per-capita COVID death rates in the world. A Brazilian climate policy expert and former climate negotiator at the United Nations, Natalie advocates for climate action under a government that rejects established climate science while being the 6th largest emitter of greenhouse gases. A global health and gender specialist, Yvette advises institutions working in African contexts in creating solutions that are inclusive of the communities they are designed to support, especially at the intersection of age, race, ethnicity, and lived experience.

 

With the impacts of both the coronavirus and climate change-fueled natural disasters falling disproportionately on communities of color, we cannot repair these issues at the root without tackling racial justice. And as an institution committed to educating a new generation of global leaders, our alma mater has the power and resources to play a leading role in advancing both climate action and racial justice, if it chooses to act boldly.

 

We want current and future generations of Harvard students to know that the University will be a leader in responding effectively to the biggest challenges our communities will face in the 21st century. We look to the University to develop the next generation of leaders in our fields – global health, education, and environmental policy – to help solve these challenges. And we expect Harvard, as an institution, to recognize that its responsibility to build a more just and sustainable world extends beyond its own gates.

 

If elected to the Board, that is exactly the direction in which we will move the University: forward. We will advocate for Harvard to become a climate leader through divestment from fossil fuels, climate education and research, and a completely fossil fuel-free campus. We will push Harvard to tackle racial injustice through our educational programs, university-wide anti-racism initiatives, and divestment from the prison-industrial complex. We will make Harvard’s governance more inclusive by increasing representation of recent alumni and giving a voice to students, workers, and faculty. And we will fight for Harvard to align our investments with our values as an institution by creating more transparent and robust socially responsible investment guidelines.

 

We’re running because we believe the Board of Overseers is the best way for us to move Harvard forward on these issues. Although most alumni aren’t familiar with the Board, it’s one of the most direct and democratic ways alumni can shape the University. The 30 alumni Overseers are tasked with providing counsel on Harvard’s “priorities, plans, and strategic initiatives.” We believe Harvard’s priorities must be rooted in the realities of climate change and racial injustice, that plans to face these challenges must be shaped by the Harvard community, and that our strategic initiatives must demonstrate bold moral leadership. 

 

This past summer, three inaugural Harvard Forward candidates made history by being elected Overseers—the first petition candidates to win since 1989, when Archbishop Desmond Tutu ran as part of an anti-Apartheid alumni divestment campaign. By electing three young, forward-thinking, petition-nominated candidates, alumni showed through their own participation and agency that they were ready for a new type of Harvard leadership; one that listens to the concerns of alumni, faculty, and students from fresh perspectives.

 

Rather than accepting the election results as a mandate for change, Harvard responded by limiting the number of petition candidates who can serve concurrently, restricting the ability of alumni to democratically nominate candidates willing to challenge the status quo. For us, during an era of critical change and tremendous opportunity, these issues are too important to give up on, despite Harvard’s new limitations on petition candidates.

 

To our fellow alumni: we are uniquely positioned to shape one of the most influential institutions in the world if we work together. If we can gather 2,987 alumni signatures to qualify for the ballot, we can vote for leaders that care about racial justice, climate change, and a more inclusive Harvard. Together, we can move Harvard forward. We hope you’ll join us.

 

Forward,

Dr. Yvette Efevbera, HSPH '11 & HSPH '18

Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, HGSE '17

Natalie Unterstell, HKS '16

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