America has the largest prison population in the world, a consequence of policies including the War on Drugs. Black and Brown communities are the first to face over-policing, ripples in family ties, and emotional turmoil as a result of intense criminalization. The status quo is one that has created an apartheid-like set of realities in the United States. One that seeks to end this apartheid, and another is blind to it. At Rutgers, we are trying to bridge this gap and do our part to ensure that our university is not complicit in the prison-industrial complex.
Rutgers University has a profound history of upholding moral principles of social justice, but it was once also complicit in slavery. The institution has two competing legacies, and we want to appeal to the better one. A legacy that includes divesting from South African Apartheid, and acknowledges investing in private prison companies which profit off increasing the prison population is morally reprehensible.
As the most diverse university in the nation, we have a role in ensuring that new students arrive to an equitable, justice-seeking campus for all students. The priority is to ensure that our ties to the university – financial, personal, or professional – are not in service of perpetuating the prison-industrial complex. As students, faculty, community members, alumni, and workers we have a moral, emotional, and intellectual obligation to engage the Board of Governors and ensure that they understand our grave concerns.
Today there are more black people in prison than there were slaves in 1860. We live in a world that cloaks oppression and shields our sights from it. A world that desensitizes us from others’ pain, and removes our own involvement from it. We do not want to live in such a world and want to shape a better one for our children, communities, and collective future.