Tufts Prison Divestment Coalition, an organization recently formed by multiple student groups, has launched a petition calling for Tufts to divest from private prison corporations. The coalition is a joint effort between Students Against Mass Incarceration (SAMI), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Tufts Climate Action and Tufts United for Immigrant Justice (UIJ).
According to the petition, the university should discontinue financial investments in corporations that violate basic human rights, “specifically targeting low-income communities of color, immigrant, LGBTQ and working class communities.”
The petition specifically calls for divestment from the Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group and G4S.
Parker MacLure, a senior and member of SAMI, said that the coalition began this semester as an offshoot of the four groups’ agendas.
“There is a lot of intersectionality with the groups. The reason all these groups are involved is because prison corporations, such as G4S, operate many child prisons in Israel that violate human rights laws. Correction Corporations of America is a private prison company in the U.S., and [the] GEO Group runs detention centers for immigrants,” MacLure said.
MacLure believes that the Tufts administration is not holding itself to the moral standards that the school supposedly values.
“Tufts prides itself, or at least it says, it’s a moral institution and that [it values] active citizenship and making social change,” MacLure said. “But then they don’t. They are not holding themselves accountable, so we feel like we need to hold Tufts accountable, because Tufts is taking the money that we give them and perpetuating these systems that are oppressing the lives of people here and abroad.”
Emily Iwamoto, one of the founding members of Tufts Climate Action who is working with the new coalition, believes that these corporations are feeding off of an explicitly racist and oppressive system.
“It’s a form of white supremacy that is operating on the backs of low-income communities of color,” Iwamoto said. “These prison companies are literally making money [by] keeping people in detention centers, in these prisons and keeping beds full, and increasing hard sentencing laws so that people remain in jail so they can make money.”
According to Iwamoto, Tufts currently has money tied up through mutual funds or banks with financial investors who own many of the shares in these prison corporations.
“We are asking Tufts to send a statement to those financial investors that they will withdraw money and put a negative screen on these companies,” Iwamoto said.
Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell said that the process for Tufts to divest from any corporation would be impractical and difficult.
“We currently don’t make direct investments, really in any company, and we don’t buy a stock of a company,” Campbell said. “We place our assets with a fund manager who then invests in a type of asset across many different companies. And so, while we might not directly invest with those companies or any other, given the way we invest, it would be very difficult to assure that in any point in time we have none of our assets in those companies.”
According to Campbell, the Board of Trustees relies on qualified fund mangers who make investment decisions Tufts’ best interest. To request specific investments and neglect their decisions may “limit the range and types of investments Tufts can make and impact the performance of the endowment portfolio,” Campbell said.
This is not the first call for divestment brought before the administration, as groups such as Tufts Climate Action have urged divestment from fossil fuels in the past. According to Campbell, divesting from any company would be difficult because Tufts has a lock-up agreement with the funds and would face financial penalties if it withdrew.
Though Campbell said she and the administration support the social goals expressed by the students, she feels that divestment is not the best way to deal with these social issues.
“When I think of social action, I don’t know if divestment is [the] most effective thing,” Campbell said. “I [would] rather see us be very active in our advocacy directly with policy, and policy-makers, rather than a removed action that is about our endowment and possibly divesting [a] negligible amount in something like this.”
Campbell also expressed the concern that divesting for one specific social cause is a slippery slope.
“If we did it for the corporations that operate prisons, why don’t we do it for tobacco or for guns?” Campbell stated. “There’s a point at which there are a lot of things that are not the best for our health, social justice and such. But where do you draw the line, and how you would be able to do that is a very hard thing to do.”
Currently, the Tufts Prison Divestment Coalition is still in its organizing phase and does not have a concrete agenda for on-campus political action. However, according to Iwamoto, the group does plan on sending a letter and a petition with signatures of students to the administration before the end of this semester.
“We need all the help we can get,” Iwamoto said. “The only way our administration is ever going to listen to us is if they know they can’t continue business as usual, because students are going to be constantly knocking on the door. We need a lot of student support to show that they aren’t representing the student body if they invest in these companies.”