Members of the Columbia Prison Divest campaign sat down with Bwog to talk about the letter they’d sent around and had publicly submitted to PrezBo. The campaign has only just started, but it seems the group is focused on success—they want Columbia to get rid of its investments in private prisons and, perhaps more importantly, they seem to want you to want it as well.
Bwog: Well, let’s start out simple. Who are you guys and what are you circulating this letter about?
We are students and we are the Columbia Prison Divest campaign. We delivered a letter on Monday to President Lee Bollinger asking Columbia to divest from the private prison industry.
B: For those of us who haven’t read the letter, what exactly are you asking for?
Specifically, we are asking for Columbia to divest completely from the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), G4S, and provide a negative screen for (i.e. measures to block any future investments in) CCA, G4S and The GEO Group. We are also calling for Columbia to publicly encourage its investment partners to divest from those same corporations. Alongside these calls for divestment, we are also asking our university to be accountable to us, students, and members of its community by way of increasing the transparency regarding its budget since currently we can access only 10% of its investments.
B: Why do you think students ought to care about this? What’s personal about divestment for students?
For some students, the divestment campaign is solely related to holding themselves, and by extension the University, accountable for sound spending practices. For other students, this is a far more personal matter, related to the effects of police profiling on targeted communities and the continued incarceration efforts directed towards communities of color and working class communities. Regardless of what perspective you approach this from, we can all agree that profiting from putting more people in prison goes against what we want Columbia to stand for.
B: What kind of response are you expecting from Columbia?
We asked President Bollinger to respond to our letter by Friday morning with a time we can meet with either him or Peter Holland (Columbia’s Chief Investment Officer). So we’ll find out on Friday.
B: What are your future plans, whether or not you get a response?
Really, our future plans revolve around getting Columbia University to divest from private prisons. We are hoping to work with administration as much as possible to make this happen, and regardless we intend to continue applying pressure until our requests are met.
B: Is there a way students can get access to Columbia’s investment information?
Columbia’s transparency policy requires the university to be open with 10% of its public equity. They don’t really seem to advertise that, but a student can call and make a request.
B: How can one get more involved?
We’re having a teach-in in the Intercultural Resource Center at 552 W. 114th St. on Monday, 2/10 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Everyone is welcome! Follow us on Twitter at @cuprisondivest for updates and others opportunities to participate in the campaign. Feel free to shoot us an email with any questions, comments, or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org.