News | Student Life

Student group calls for Columbia to divest from private prison companies

  • CALL TO DIVEST | A student group, known as Columbia Prison Divest, delivered a letter to University President Lee Bollinger's office in Low Library on Monday to call on the University to divest from private prison companies.

Updated, Feb. 11, 3 a.m.

A group of students hand-delivered a letter to University President Lee Bollinger’s office on Monday afternoon, calling on the administration to end Columbia’s investment in the Corrections Corporation of America and the British multinational security firm G4S.

The group, known as Columbia Prison Divest, had been planning the letter since the middle of last semester. The group asked Bollinger to respond to its letter by Feb. 7 and to have a meeting with the group by Feb. 14. The students wish to discuss how these investments are affecting people of color and LGBTQ, international, and working-class communities, which have higher rates of incarceration. The protest was first reported on Bwog and a video of the protest was posted on TALK, the Intercultural Resource Center’s student-run publication.

The students said they found out in June 2013 that Columbia owned 230,432 shares in CCA, worth about $8 million, and that it was also invested in G4S, which has received accusations of allowing torture in its privately managed South African prisons. These numbers are derived from the 10 percent of the University’s budget that is publicly available, according to the group.

“In some ways, we are here because other people are locked up,” Asha Ransby-Sporn, CC ’16 and a student behind the letter, said. “There are people back home, there are people uptown, who are policed and incarcerated in ways that Columbia students are not.” 

“Asking Columbia to divest is a way to hold the University accountable,” Ransby-Sporn added.

The letter, which was signed “Students Invested in our Community,” asked the University to immediately divest from all shares it holds in CCA and G4S. Additionally, it requested that Columbia’s fund manager reach out to 36 firms that Columbia has a stake in—including Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, and Morgan Stanley—to ask them to also withdraw their investments in these companies. Finally, the letter demanded that Columbia make its present and future financial portfolio more transparent.

“We are disturbed by investment practices that we see as destructive to the communities we represent and which blatantly contradict Columbia’s commitment to the well-being of its underrepresented and marginalized students,” the letter read.

Feride Eralp, CC ’14, said that Columbia’s supposed investment in these companies was paradoxical.

“I’m wondering if I’m directly profiting from high-security prisons or checkpoints,” Eralp added.

“I chose to direct financial resources to the school,” Gabriela Pelsinger, CC ’15 and a member of the group, said. “So I am accountable to what this institution does with this money.”

This isn’t the first student-run effort calling on the University to withdraw its holdings in certain companies. Last semester, Barnard Columbia Divest—which objected to the University’s investments in the fossil fuel industry—met with the University’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing after a divestment ballot initiative passed by an overwhelming majority.

“I think that lately there’s been a feeling among the student population that the administration and its bureaucracy needs to be more transparent,” Imani Brown, CC ’14, said. “There are ways that the school acts as though students don’t need to be involved in these kinds of decision-making processes.”

The University did not respond to requests for comment.

luke.barnes@columbiaspectator.com  |  @LukeBarnes1292

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that TALK was the student-run publication of the International Student Resource Center. It is the InterCultural Resource Center. Additionally, due to an editing error, a previous version of this story said that making the University's financials more transparent was the group's main priority. Spectator regrets the error.

Comments

Plain text

  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Your username will not be displayed if checked
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Anonymous posted on

Snore

+1
-5
-1
Lol posted on

Stupid. And the reason why investment details are not transparent and the university can't respond to petitions to divest because suddenly they will have be faced with a boatload of petitions. Don't think people are thinking hard enough about what columbia invests its money for.

Also, no comment from the administration?

+1
-17
-1
Anonymous posted on

Not sure what you are saying. If people knew what Goldman Sacks, JP Morgan, etc invested in, everyone would be boycotting them. Apple, microsoft have some of the most abuse working conditions oversees, and no one seems to be boycotting them.

+1
-3
-1
WTF posted on

How does Microsoft have "abusive working conditions" overseas? You realize Microsoft is predominantly a software company, right? And the reason nobody is boycotting them is BECAUSE NOBODY CARES.

+1
-3
-1
OP posted on

Nothing is PERFECT. I'm not saying I agree with what GS, JPM, etc. invest in/do, same as I don't agree with using up all our fossil fuels and maybe not spending enough on renewable energy resources (though full disclaimer, I do not profess to be an expert on any of these topics). What I'm saying is, what is Columbia's investment fund for? Isn't it to get returns? To raise money for the school? So that this school can be better, and consequently, the life for students can be better (if we're being optimistic, that could mean better services for sexual assault victims, better services for minority communities, etc. etc. etc. that everyone complains about), and consequently, so that the students here have more resources and more opportunities with which they can make a difference in the world once they graduate. Is it wrong for me to look at this bigger picture? Does investing in ANYTHING necessarily mean that we ultimately agree with every single thing it does? Isn't it more about the returns and what those returns do for our school?

Just my personal view. And as to the first point, what I mean is this argument can literally probably be made for like everything Columbia invests in. So should we all just petition Columbia to divest from * everything *? Where does this stop? That's why Columbia won't/shouldn't respond to these sort of petitions.

+1
-13
-1
Anonymous posted on

"so that the students here have more resources and more opportunities with which they can make a difference in the world once they graduate."

I think you're missing the "bigger picture" here. This petition proves that students at Columbia ARE trying to make a difference in the world even before they graduate.

+1
+3
-1
Anonymous posted on

These students would have much more of an impact if they helped poor and minority and gay students in the neighborhood, rather than complaining about a miniscule percent of Columbia's investment portfolio.

+1
-6
-1
Anonymous posted on

Who says they're not doing just that, in addition to urging Columbia to be socially responsible in its investment choices? Also, if the percentage is so minuscule, then it shouldn't be a huge deal to divest.

+1
-3
-1
Anonymous posted on

intercultural * resource center

+1
-3
-1
Anonymous posted on

Yes, because straight white males are not affected at all by being tortured in prison. Only people of color are affected by that. Great point. Remember kids: you are a member of the collective, and you are never an individual.

+1
-13
-1
solidarity posted on

keep up the good work Columbia Prison Divest!!

+1
+2
-1
oyriDcas posted on

more… tramadol for dogs contraindications - safe order tramadol online

+1
0
-1
ZKnTlHbzK posted on

valium no rx - valium half life cats

+1
-1
-1
mHTWQ posted on

Recommended Reading tramadol generic manufacturers - tramadol 50 mg qds

+1
0
-1
QMXEfCAD posted on

buy valium online with visa card valium non generic - valium pills orange

+1
0
-1
RttpHe posted on

buy tramadol is it ok to take 100mg of tramadol - tramadol withdrawal vs vicodin withdrawal

+1
0
-1
xHElXN posted on

adderall online adderall online without - do people buy adderall online

+1
0
-1
TCzme posted on

valium online valium xanax drug test - valium generic form

+1
0
-1
vvexw posted on

cheap ativan online lorazepam dorom 20cpr 1mg - ativan side effects last

+1
0
-1