VSG Senate Recommends Vanderbilt Divest from Private Prisons


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Avi Mediratta

On Wednesday evening, the VSG Senate voted on a bill that recommends the administration divest from funding private prisons. The vote came at long last after the bill was tabled at the Senate meeting two weeks ago. The bill contained many facts about racial discrimination in American mass incarceration, and called on the administration to state that Vanderbilt University will never invest in the private prison industry, as it has undeniable historical connections it.

Many years ago, Vanderbilt was associated with the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private prison corporation founded by a Vandy alum that often lobbied Congress to make stricter laws that would result in more people being imprisoned. CCA (now called CoreCivic) also funded research by Vanderbilt professors, which stated that the costs of private prisons were much lower than those of public prisons. The bill cited this funding as a conflict of interest. A past VPR article detailed the relationship between CCA and Vanderbilt in greater depth.

Two weeks ago, the VSG Senate had met to discuss this bill encouraging divestment, but after having been discussed the bill at length and amended it many times, it was finally put off for the next Senate meeting in the interest of time.

Senator Raza writes to VPR, “I really think the bill was tabled…because most of my fellow Senators felt they did not know much about prison-privatization. There were a couple who just wanted to be obstructionists, and have this discomfort with standing up for marginalized minority students.”

What Raza is referring to is the racial inequality in American incarceration. African Americans are incarcerated at six times the rate of Caucasian people, and African Americans, along with Hispanics, made up 58% of all prisoners in 2008, despite those groups accounting for roughly a quarter of the general population. The bill will formally detach the university with an entire industry that Raza feels has been discriminatory and inhumane.

The final vote count was 22-0-1 in favor of the bill. The one abstention was Senator Matt Seck. When VPR spoke with him after the meeting, he mentioned that one clause of the bill concerned him, and so he did not want to put his name on it. “I think the implication that our university has been providing biased studies is a concerning one. I think that’s a very harsh stance for our body to be taking.” Other than that, he said, he was morally in favor of the bill.

The voice of the student body has spoken, and it has called for the administration to make a statement about this issue. The Senate has done so in the past, when it called for the administration to label Vanderbilt as a sanctuary campus. Chancellor Zeppos responded by issuing a statement addressing many of the students’ concerns, but refusing to adopt the label of “sanctuary campus.” It is likely that the administration will respond to this bill in the coming weeks.