Harvard Students Sue Over School’s Ties to Prisons

According to CNN, five Harvard University students filed a lawsuit Wednesday to force the Ivy League school officials to withdraw its investment funds from companies that profit from the prison industry – what they call the “prison-industrial complex.”

The students are accusing the university’s president, a senior fellow of Harvard Corporation, and Harvard’s endowment manager, Harvard Management Company (HMC) of a “violation of fiduciary duty and breach of the Harvard charter.” The students call on the university to withdraw its $40 billion investment in prisons and companies that profit from them and accuses the school of falsely claiming it aims to remedy the harmful legacy of slavery while reaping financial benefits from the prison system, NBC reports.

“Instead of helping to dismantle the entanglement of profiteering, government interests, and the system of human caging, Harvard makes profit off of it,” the lawsuit, filed in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County, states. “That money funds the opulent lifestyles of Harvard’s top administrators who are prison profiteers.”

Harvard uses its endowment to “help ensure Harvard University has the financial resources to confidently maintain and expand its leadership in education and research for future generations,” according to HMC’s website.

The Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign (HPDC) has argued that the university has at least $3 million invested in the “prison-industrial complex,” which it says goes beyond private prison operators like GEO Group and CoreCivic, to include companies that are not exclusively involved in the prison system, CNN reports.

A separate group of seven students unsuccessfully filed a similar lawsuit in 2014 to force the school to divest from the fossil fuel industry, which was dismissed in court, with a judge writing they failed to demonstrate “that they have been accorded a personal right in the management or administration of Harvard’s endowment that is individual to them or distinct from the student body or public at large.”

However the five plaintiffs in the new case may be more successful by citing the fact that they have all donated to Harvard in the past year. “Our standing now is based on the premise that we’re donors to the university,” Xitlalli Alvarez, a plaintiff and a doctoral student in anthropology, told NBC News. “This is one way to hold Harvard’s feet to the fire.”

About Catherine Smith

Catherine Smith is a newcomer to Washington D.C. She met, and married an American journalist and moved to D.C from the U.K. She graduated with a B.A in Graphic, Media and Communications and worked in design and retail in the U.K.

Photo: (Photo by Omar Rawlings/picture alliance via Getty Images)

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