On Apr. 10, student organizers from 14 public and private universities across the nation participated in a joint Day of Action to demand that their Universities invest in resources to create healthy communities and divest from the prison industrial complex (PIC). These students are part of #FreedomCampus, a network of Universities, which includes Harvard, University of Florida, University of Chicago, and Grinnell College, that are redefining safety beyond policing and prisons by exposing Universities’ complicity in these systems.
Students are calling attention to how Universities preserve and support the PIC through endowments that are invested in prisons and corporations that profit off of incarcerated individuals. This is the case for institutions like Harvard University, where activist are pressuring the administration to divest.
Universities’ participation in the PIC also includes their use of prison labor, their participation in racialized policing, gentrification of surrounding communities, and investment in research and technology that expands the surveillance state. From the University of Florida, Juan Zapata is a founding student of Divest UF, a community collective pushing for UF to sever its ties with the PIC and the fossil fuel industry. “Our Agricultural Science department contracts prison labor in farms all over Florida. The second best AG department in the country shouldn’t grow and profit off of the backs of those inside”.
Michelle Yang, a third year student at University of Chicago is part of the student campaign #CareNotCops, which is pushing administration to defund campus security, and move that money towards mental health initiatives for students. “As students, we have the right to know how our tuition dollars are used, and also how our university is contributing to mass incarceration and racialized policing. Through their investments, universities profit off of human misery while driving the expansion of mass incarceration and immigration enforcement.
Divestment is one strategy in shrinking these structures. By selling one’s assets in a company for political or social reasons, investors can admonish an unethical corporation by withdrawing financial assets. The overall goals of divestment are to reduce a corporation’s financial capacity to engage in business-as-usual (building and running prisons) and to publicize and injustice that a company is furthering.
This would not be the first time students have successfully pushed their universities to divest from private prisons. In 2015, Columbia University became the very first university in the country to divest its endowment from the private prison industry due to the work of student group Columbia Divest. Likewise, in 2017, University of California terminated $475 million worth of contracts with Wells Fargo because of organizing by Afrikan Black Coalition.
#FreedomCampus emerged from a convening in Fall 2018 organized by #FreedomCities, which includes organizations such as Million Hoodies and Freedom to Thrive that support the organizing capacity of Black and brown youth.
Freedom Campus is a network of student organizers from various public and private universities across the nation demanding that their universities divest from the prison industrial complex (PIC) and reinvest into communities.