By Seyitcan Ucin and George Kunkel
This morning, members of Princeton Private Prison Divest (PPPD) – a coalition of Princeton University students, faculty, and staff – published a press release calling for urgent action. It detailed PPPD’s demands that Princeton divest from private prison corporations and corporations that contract exclusively with prisons and detention centers. Included with those demands was an indictment of the University administration for “its complicity in institutional violence against the nation’s most marginalized communities.” The press release was not simply announcing the group’s commitment to seeking justice, but ended with a call to action: a request to all Princeton community members to attend the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) meeting on Monday, the 27th, and “unapologetically make their voices heard.”
They did. Friend 101 was at capacity as dozens of Princeton undergraduates, graduate students, staff, and faculty members poured into the lecture hall, some donning red in solidarity. On the docket for the discussion of divestment was a ten minute presentation by the CPUC Resources Committee followed by a ten minute presentation by PPPD, and a discussion period to serve as the conclusion. The Resources Committee, made up of University faculty, staff, as well as graduate and undergraduate student representatives, is responsible for “consider[ing] questions of general policy concerning the procurement and management of the University’s financial resources.” During its presentation, the chair of the Committee, Professor Michael Littman, highlighted that each member of the Committee had deemed the divestment proposal incomplete and, thus, it would be rejected as it is currently. Specifically, Professor Littman cited a lack of adequate empirical evidence, despite the fact that PPPD’s proposal includes two addenda providing ample research for its claims.
After Professor Littman’s official presentation, nine students took the stage representing PPPD. They detailed their struggle in dealing with the Resources Committee over the past year – outlining the string of vague responses, ambiguous requests, and shifting demands, among other obstructions.
They passionately argued that these were part of a much larger agenda on the part of the administration to silence dissent, and announced that PPPD would not fall victim to these tactics. Rather than let the administration delay divestment like in the case of South African apartheid – a process which began with student protests as early as 1968 and did not conclude until the 1985 vote to only selectively divest from companies conducting business in South Africa – PPPD ordered that further discussion would be on their terms. They demanded the University divest from private prison and detention corporations (in addition to the exclusion of these corporations from future investments), increase accountability and transparency from the Resources Committee, and have an immediate meeting with the Board of Trustees since the issue was too urgent to be impeded by unaccountable bureaucracy.
Following this announcement, PPPD led the auditorium of attendees to stand up and walk out of the meeting to a chorus of “What do we want? Divestment! When do we want it? NOW!” A crowd of about 100 then occupied the Friend Center Atrium conducting an hour of teach-ins led by experts with intimate knowledge of the prison system through years of advocacy work centered around incarcerated people. But before walking out, PPPD, in no uncertain terms, declared that until these demands were met, they would continue to escalate until divestment occurs and continue to stand in solidarity with all people affected by the system of incarceration in U.S.