Tufts for Racially Equitable Endowment (TREE) has been working with other organizations on campus – such as the Tufts University Prison Initiative of Tisch College (TUPIT), Tufts Action Group (TAG), and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) – to develop a strategy for the emerging divestment campaign. The first challenge was to discover how much money is actually invested and how to begin the process of removing it.
Very basically, the Tufts endowment is divided into two components: direct holdings and indirect holdings. About 20 percent of the total endowment is in the form of direct holdings, meaning that it is controlled directly by Tufts and the Trustees and can be managed at their discretion. The other 80 percent is indirect holdings, meaning that it is controlled by an external manager and organized into commingled funds, in which multiple investments are bundled together and connected to other investors. Tufts total return pool (TRP) owns approximately $72K in private prison investments, which is represented by a single private prison stock that is part of a commingled fund (Tufts Observer). The TRP currently owns no private prison holdings in the direct holdings. This makes the divestment process slightly more challenging, as it is much more difficult to disentangle bundled funds than it is to remove a direct investment. Therefore, the first step toward complete divestment is to ensure that Tufts does not acquire any direct investments in the future. Because the private prison industry is currently expanding, it is essential to curb the possibility that Tufts could gain holdings in the future by generating a greater public consciousness of the issue and creating a university pledge never to directly invest.
The next step is to build coalitions of students, faculty, and alumni in order to present a united front and launch the campaign to remove the prison investments Tufts already has. This process includes passing a student referendum, producing a faculty resolution, and drafting a letter to the Tufts administration and Board of Trustees. The ultimate goal of the campaign is to create a Tufts Responsible Investment Advisory Group (RIAG) to investigate Tufts investments in private prisons and divest entirely. Hopefully, this will also set the stage for a longer-term movement to rethink Tufts’ entire investment portfolio and divest not only from private prison companies, but also from any corporations that perpetuate systemic oppression and facilitate violence against marginalized people.
Over the past several years, Tufts Climate Action (TCA) has been leading a campaign for divestment from the fossil fuel industry and going through all the steps of the divestment process, and TREE is striving to follow their example and expand their work. The fight for divestment can be a long and difficult one, but it is an absolutely essential milestone in the fight to deconstruct the Prison Industrial Complex and build a more just nation and world.
As of the beginning of 2021, the Biden administration launched an initiative to address racial injustice in the United States, which included an executive order to terminate Justice Department contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities, such as those run by GEO Group and CoreCivic. “This is a first step to stop corporations from profiting off of incarceration,” said President Joe Biden, indicating a continuing commitment to reform and reimagine the US carceral system. Additionally, several big banks including Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and others that previously provided loans to private prison companies have now officially committed to ending their ties with the industry. Proactive private and governmental action demonstrates that it is possible to reduce dependence on private prison facilities and refuse to support an industry that profits off of human suffering. Although signifiant, these moves represent only a small step toward dismantling the Prison Industrial Complex that has permeated every aspect of American life and society. It is therefore essential to build on this national momentum and pressure all institutions to cut ties with the prison industry. By divesting from private prisons, Tufts can become an example to other universities and corporations, helping to ignite a collective effort to begin breaking down the toxic growth of an industry that prioritizes profit over people.