Representatives of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization called upon Yale to divest from its investment in a private prison corporation during a protest on Thursday that drew a crowd of about 100 students and community members.
The protest, held in front of the African-American Studies Department building on College Street, was the first step in a campaign organized by Yale workers and students in partnership with local officials and community leaders. The campaign’s kickoff coincided with GESO’s release of “Endowing Injustice,” a report formally expressing the organization’s opposition to Yale’s $1.5 million investment in Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the U.S.
GESO organizer Sarah Haley GRD ’09, the report’s principal author of the , said during the demonstration that she thinks the nature of the investment is inappropriate for an academic institution.
“The endowment of higher education is no place for funding prisons,” Haley said.
Yale President Richard Levin said he is unsure whether there is a partnership between Yale and CCA.
“I don’t know for sure if this is indeed an investment they [Yale’s investments office] still have,” Levin said.
Michael Morand ’87, Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs, declined to comment on Yale’s investment in CCA.
Haley said the CCA has received at least 16 lawsuits and has been criticized by Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union for prisoner abuse.
“They have sexually assaulted women at gunpoint,” she said. “The details of this are too stomach-turning for me to describe.”
Haley said GESO’s conversations with Yale officials about the investment have been unproductive.
“They told us to focus on the positive and ignore the negative,” she said. “But this is too grievous to ignore.”
Other speakers at the rally included representatives from the African-American Studies Department. A graduate student representative from the department read a statement of opposition to the investment that he claimed had been signed by almost every African-American studies graduate student. The statement explained why Yale’s move seemed particularly offensive to students of color.
“The prison industry thrives upon people of color and those living in poverty,” the statement read, also asserting that Yale’s investment undermines the field of African-American studies.
“It’s disgusting that Yale invests in the private prison system,” said Shana Redmond GRD ’08, a GESO organizer who attended the protest.
Speakers also said they thought that Yale is not contributing enough to the New Haven community. They called on Yale to invest more in New Haven, hire more women and minorities and fund prison education and arts programs.
But Morand said Yale’s contributions to the community are significant.
“No university has invested or contributed more in their community than Yale has in New Haven,” he said.
GESO has protested Yale’s investments in the past. Earlier this year, some GESO members joined undergraduates outside Yale’s Investment Office, where they donned surgical and gas masks to protest a sizeable Yale investment in Compton Petroleum Corporation, a company with allegedly unsafe drilling plans.