Historically, students have been at the forefront of change by demanding accountability from their own institutions. Penn students are no exception.
In 1981, a broad group of students formed a divestment coalition, calling on the Penn Board of Trustees to divest its holdings from companies that conducted business in apartheid South Africa. In 2006, Penn unanimously voted to divest from companies complicit in the Darfur genocide. A month ago, Penn students voted overwhelmingly to divest from fossil fuel companies. We are especially poised to demand change in this moment because of the financial power that our University holds in its $9.6 billion endowment. Unfortunately, Penn makes money by investing in corporations, and too many corporations make money from hurting people and communities.
Corporations profit from displacing people by running private prisons that disproportionately incarcerate black, Latino and indigenous people. Security firms run immigration detention centers in the United States that separate families and abuse people. Oil and mining companies contaminate water and land by building pipelines and mines on Native lands. Machinery companies manufacture equipment to conduct mountaintop removal coal-mining in Appalachia that contaminates natural resources and displaces working-class communities. Other bulldozers are created to demolish homes, and computer systems are designed to restrict the movement of marginalized communities both at home and abroad — immigrants in the U.S., and Palestinians under occupation. And weapon manufacturers sell drones that target Muslim communities.
We believe that it is imperative that our administration be held accountable and make ethical decisions regarding Penn’s endowment. As an open group of dedicated Penn students representing eight student groups, Penn Divest from Displacement is calling on the Penn Board of Trustees to withdraw investments from companies that profit off of displacement. With the help of research conducted by organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, American Friends Service Committee and Human Rights Watch, we have identified seven companies as having committed egregious and well-documented human rights abuses related to the displacement of peoples. Many of these companies have been targeted by other campaigns for their abuses:
Group 4 Securicor (G4S): world’s largest global private prison and for-profit security company
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA): largest private prison company in the U.S.
Caterpillar: Produces both weaponized bulldozers designed to demolish Palestinian homes in the West Bank and equipment used by coal companies for mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.: Produces drones that terrorize Muslim communities in South Asia and the Middle East
Penn Divest From Displacement calls on the Board of Trustees to ensure that no future investments in securities, endowments, mutual funds and other monetary instruments are made in these companies, and that students have greater control and oversight on investments of our endowment.
As a broad coalition of student groups who represent communities targeted by these companies, we seek to create awareness amongst other Penn students who care about these issues because their families are being directly impacted by them, and students who refuse to allow their tuition dollars to fund displacement. Among the Penn community there are students who are undocumented and who have had family members deported. Among us are students of color who have had experiences with incarcerated loved ones. Palestinian students at Penn are affected by the Israeli Occupation, and some are refugees. Trans and queer people of color and those who are disabled are disproportionately affected by mass incarceration. By beginning the movement to hold our University accountable for investing in companies that profit from displacing members of our communities, we are continuing a legacy of Penn students demanding change and accountability from their university.
Penn Amnesty International, Penn Arab Student Society (PASS), Penn Disability Advocates, Penn for Immigrant Rights (PIR), Penn Non-Cis, Penn Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) and Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation (SOUL)
JADE HUYNH and LAUREN BALLESTER are a College junior and Engineering senior respectively. Their email addresses are firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
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