Updated: 06/23 at 09:30 a.m.
Columbia will divest from the private prison industry after the board of trustees voted to support divestment on Monday, making it the first college or university in the U.S. to do so.
This decision—which comes after the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing recommended prison divestment in April—means that the University will divest its stocks from private prison companies like G4S and refrain from investing in private prison companies in the future.
Since February 2014, Columbia Prison Divest has campaigned for the University to divest its endowment from G4S and the Corrections Corporations of America, hosting two awareness weeks as well as several other rallies—including one outside of a class taught by University President Lee Bollinger.
At a University Senate plenary on April 2, ACSRI Chair Jeff Gordon said that the University no longer owns stocks in CCA.
CPD core organizer Dunni Oduyemi, CC ’16, said that while she was not surprised by the trustees’ decision, it was both a validation of the group’s efforts and a reminder of the power of student activism.
“All of the work was done by students and especially students of color on this campus,” Oduyemi, a former editor in chief of The Eye, said. “The narrative should really be one of students and the way that we have managed to take power in a small way that is representative of a larger movement.”
In late April, CPD—a subcommittee of Students Against Mass Incarceration—staged a sit-in and teach-in for nearly five hours in Low Library on Friday to pressure Bollinger to bring prison divestment to the Board of Trustees and release a statement on the issue. In May, Bollinger sent an email to the Columbia community in support of divestment from private prisons.
“This action occurs within the larger, ongoing discussion of the issue of mass incarceration that concerns citizens from across the ideological spectrum,” a University spokesperson said in a statement to Spectator.
Still, Oduyemi said that because SAMI and CPD are both working toward prison abolition, anti-carceral activism on campus is anything but complete.
“We’ve said over and over again that we don’t want any investment in racist and classist systems of incarceration and policing, and those are all things that are going on in Harlem,” she said.
“There’s no way for Columbia to fully divest from these systems of racist policing and incarceration. It’s founded in that and uses that violence to maintain its privilege, so there’s a lot of work to do.”
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