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At Harvard, The Divinity Tree Stands Between Eco-Driven Arguments

The large red oak tree at the center of a debate at the Harvard Divinity School. The tree is slated for removal to make room to renovate and expand Andover Hall. Photo by Jesse Costa for WBUR

The large red oak tree at the center of a debate at the Harvard Divinity School. The tree is slated for removal to make room to renovate and expand Andover Hall. Photo by Jesse Costa for WBUR

Andover Hall is the heart — and soul — of Harvard Divinity School.

Built in 1911, the Gothic stone building needs some upgrades: modern classrooms, better accessibility and a new meeting space. Divinity school officials also say they have a “moral imperative” to reduce the building’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But officials say they need to cut down a tree to make way for the new meeting space. And not just any tree — a towering red oak about 75 feet tall and about 150 years old. Students and community members call it The Divinity Tree, and some are protesting the expansion plans.

“I’m not at war with the dean or these well-meaning administrators who are trying to ensure the future of [Harvard Divinity School],” says second-year master’s of divinity candidate Gretchen Legler, who has applied for state “legacy tree” status in an effort to save the tree. “I’m thinking more about institutional power; about imagination and creativity and taking the time to make sure that the most creative options are looked at for this renovation so that this tree can stay here.”

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