The Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign (HPDC) has launched a major initiative that enables alumni and other Harvard donors to redirect financial gifts they would have made to the university toward building wealth and liberated futures for Black, brown, and poor communities. Entitled #HarvardDonorsDivest, it includes a pledge not to donate to Harvard until the administration discloses its endowment, divests from the prison-industrial complex, and meaningfully reinvests in reparative funds and projects.
Amber Ashley James, a member of HPDC who graduated from Harvard College and is now a student at Harvard Law School, said, “As a senior at Harvard, I was proud to chair the Class of 2011 Senior Gift Campaign for my House. But now that I know what Harvard is doing with the money students and alumni donate, I can’t donate in good conscience anymore. And once my fellow students and alumni learn that the Harvard experience we so cherish is funded by investments in human caging, they will also commit not to donate until there is more transparency and accountability with how the endowment is run.”
At the heart of #HarvardDonorsDivest is a Just Reinvestment Fund that HPDC has set up specifically to benefit grassroots organizations working to address racial and economic inequality through community-led solutions across the city and state. Donations to the Fund will be split between between participatory re-granting programs, such as the Massachusetts Solidarity Economy Initiative and Boston Ujima Project. These programs prioritize wealth-building and self-determination of Black, brown and poor communities, and ameliorate some of the harmful impact of the prison-industrial complex. Redirected donations will help grow community land trusts, worker-owned cooperatives, food sovereignty, and more.
“We must listen when frontline community members say that reinvesting in jobs, healthcare, education, and housing — instead of the prison-industrial complex — can break whole cycles of criminalization,” said alumna Pearl Bhatnagar. “This is an opportunity to dive into a conversation on redistributing wealth back to the communities from whom it was historically stolen, through new models that enable truly democratic decision-making.”
#HarvardDonorsDivest represents the culmination of several weeks of planning with alumni and financial advisors. Hundreds of active alumni first became involved with HPDC by signing its March 2019 petition to Harvard President Larry Bacow, and many of them have since sought ways to deepen their commitment. Additionally, more than twenty racial justice investors across the country – members of the finance community who self-select to shift their industry toward socially responsible investing – have brought fresh urgency to the campaign by affirming that divestment is not only feasible but also critical.
Said Rachel Robasciotti, impact investment manager and founding CEO of Robasciotti & Philipson, “It’s unfortunate that Harvard continues to give obsolete arguments for why the endowment can’t be restructured. The truth is that universities can ethically restructure their endowments and many have. Harvard really should be a leader in this movement rather than being so far behind the curve.”
HPDC’s heightened calls for divestment come as national momentum for prison divestment grows, demonstrated by Columbia University’s divestment from private prisons and JPMorgan’s announcement in March that they would stop financing private prison companies. In the last decade alone, students and community organizations have celebrated $4.3 billion divested by major investors, cities, universities, pension funds, and individuals.
Knowing that Harvard’s refusal to divest from prisons represents a choice rather than a necessity – that divestment is possible and would have immediate impact – #HarvardDonorsDivest hopes to leverage the voices and resources of Harvard’s donor community to act where the university will not. It is timed to coincide with commencement season, when the eyes of alumni and graduates’ families are on Harvard.
HPDC’s Just Reinvestment Fund can be found at:https://www.economicdemocracy.us/reinvest
It is accompanied by an online pledge – signers of which agree to stop donating to Harvard and to “model for [the Harvard administration] what it means to follow the lead of frontline communities” – at:http://bit.ly/harvarddonorsdivest.
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