Court Battles

Harvard students sue school for divestment from companies profiting off prison industry

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A Harvard University building on August 30, 2018 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A group of Harvard University students on Wednesday sued to compel the university to divest from private prisons after previously concentrating their efforts on protests and petitions.

The lawsuit from five students with the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign calls 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 News 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.”

Seven students filed a similar lawsuit in 2014 to attempt 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.”

The five plaintiffs in the new case are seeking to avoid a similar pitfall 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.”


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