Student Association members argue about Syracuse University divestment from private prisons

Divestment from private prisons is a “noble cause,” said Student Association Chief of Staff Andres Laguna.

Sara Schleicher | Staff Photographer

Divestment from private prisons is a “noble cause,” said Student Association Chief of Staff Andres Laguna.

At Monday night’s Syracuse University Student Association meeting, assembly members argued about a movement urging SU to divest from companies that invest in private prisons.

Janice Dowell, an SU philosophy professor, asked SA to write a resolution encouraging the university to divest from certain companies. Chief of Staff Andres Laguna presented an analysis of a meeting with Dowell.

Some SA members said Andres should not have presented the subject because it was not an SA issue. Others said he was subjective and that he should have done more research.

Laguna presented pros and cons about the resolution. Parliamentarian Obi Afriyie and SA Historian John Jankovic argued it wasn’t Laguna’s right to present a subjective view of the movement to SA. Laguna did not share any statistics or research citations during the meeting.

Divestment from private prisons is a “noble cause,” Laguna said. But he added it was not SA’s place to create a divestment resolution, that it would not directly affect SU students and that it could potentially put SA at odds with the administration.

He added that he thought the movement could prevent companies from hiring SU students and hinder job placement.

SA member Ryan Golden supports the idea of creating a resolution, stating that private prisons are the equivalent of establishments implementing “slavery of prisoners.” Golden said SA is a voice for the student body, and he believes the student body should “be against slavery.”

Will Pritchett, another SA member, said he had experience visiting private and public prisons through an internship. He said the divestment issue is complicated. Pritchett questioned if SU should divest from a company such as Coca-Cola, for example, because it sold soda in a private prison commissary.

Other members had varying opinions on whether divestment would affect their job placement. Some did not want to be a part of the resolution. Others expressed that the movement was unrealistic in its purpose.

The discussion was tabled after more than 20 minutes of open discussion, which grew to yelling battles at certain points. Divest Syracuse will be revisited in SA if or when Dowell — the founder of the movement on campus — comes to speak at a meeting.

Other business

SA also voted to allocate $7,500 to fund flights to Puerto Rico for the upcoming Hurricane Maria relief trip, scheduled during Winter Break. Hendricks Chapel has said it will match SA’s funds. SA will interview 51 of the 193 applicants. Organizers will select 23 student volunteers and seven alternates.

Chair of Student Life Elizabeth Sedore said SA will soon begin a coat drive for the Syracuse City School District, specifically refugee students, who may not have access to proper winter wear.

Co-chair of Diversity Affairs Khalid Khan and President of SA James Franco independently mentioned meeting with the Department of Public Safety to address continuing concerns among the student body. Franco announced to SA that there had been a 21-year-old stabbed on the 800 block of Sumner Avenue two weeks ago. Many of the SA members had not heard about this and believed it should have been DPS’ responsibility to notify them. Khan mentioned creating a subcommittee devoted to DPS engagement within the Diversity Affairs committee.


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