SU Prison Divest: In response to the Board of Trustees’ letter to the editor

Oct. 24, 2017, 1:00 a.m.

Last week, Stanford’s Board of Trustees (BoT) released a letter to the editor defending its failure to divest from private prisons. Their statement focuses on technicalities and obscure bureaucratic processes. In this discussion, we must remember people’s lives are destroyed for profit. The Board’s statement ignores the core of this issue: Stanford profits off the real suffering of real people.

We, concerned students, refuse to accept Stanford’s continued investment in and support for the prison industry.

Why should we divest?

Divestment from the prison industry means selling all investments in all companies that support the prison industry. Though Stanford doesn’t directly invest in prison operators, it still indirectly invests. Companies like AT&T and Walmart source prison labor, paying prisoners under $2. These companies make prisons profitable and lobby for harsher sentencing laws that expand the prison industry. In the U.S., 2.2 million people are currently imprisoned — a 700 percent increase over the past 30 years. This influx directly results from state collusion with private corporations.

With its failure to divest, the Board institutionally perpetuates this system of violence, dehumanization and modern-day slavery that harms marginalized communities, including Black, Brown, Indigenous, poor, undocumented, disabled and LGBTQ people.

Impact of divestment

In the letter, Board member Gail Harris claims SU Prison Divest called for shareholder engagement rather than divestment. Pages 9-13 of our proposal, however, directly call for divestment. The Board’s response ignores our divestment demands.

Since Stanford is a private institution that doesn’t disclose its investments, the Stanford community has no way to spearhead shareholder engagement. Additionally, historically, shareholder engagement effects change neither as fast nor lasting as divestment.

Stanford’s role as a world leader means that its words are loud, but its money speaks much louder. Its shareholders’ power is dwarfed in comparison to its power as a leader in the community. With its investment, Stanford signals its belief that this violent, racist system should continue to exist. “Divestment is not a magic bullet, but it is a powerful tool to challenge the status quo of placing profits over people.” Stanford’s divestment would serve as a powerful statement and tool to educate the greater community on what people believe is acceptable to invest in.

What have we done up to now?

Following Stanford’s protocol for initiating divestment, students submitted research on prison investments to Stanford’s Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing (APIRL). The Board’s letter fails to mention that APIRL “concluded that five public companies [that provide prison services] met their direct social injury threshold.” Yet, no action was taken. The Board overrode the very process that Stanford insisted students follow.

Stanford has forced our hand

We’ve exhausted Stanford’s existing channels for change. The Board’s letter said that it will reexamine its statement on investment responsibility and solicit community input. What was SU Prison Divest’s proposal if not 24 pages of community input? We refuse another stagnating bureaucratic tactic, disguised as “community input,” that drains people power and slows change. This purposeful strategy of intentional delay distracts from Stanford’s continued investment in violence. Other channels must be employed.

We dropped a banner at the Homecoming football game to force Stanford to listen to us, an intersectional coalition of its own students. We flyered and protested Homecoming Weekend events to build far-reaching support and involve alumni, many of whom condemn Stanford’s decision. We will continue to resist mass incarceration and the exploitative criminal justice system. We demand change.


The Board claims to “respect the desire of students to shine a light [on the issue of private prisons].” If the Board respects students, it would not invest in a system of mass incarceration that threatens its own students’ communities. We will continue to “shine a light” on the Board’s failure to divest.

We tried Stanford’s bureaucratic process and the Board didn’t listen, leaving us no choice but action. Stanford tells us we can change the world for the better, but to do so, it funds our education with investments that hurt the communities we come from.

Our communities cannot afford to wait for the system to change itself. Financial support is a choice: a choice to support the incarceration of millions for profit. It is unconscionable for the University to profit off human suffering. Sign this petition to stand with us.

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