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Following president’s slavery remarks, activists at Harvard demand the school divest from prisons

President offered clumsy analogy to slaveholders, donors

Activists at Harvard are calling on the president of the school to divest from prison investments shortly after he made an awkward comparison between university donors and slaveholders.

Harvard president Lawrence Bacow made the clumsy remarks last week at a campus staff meeting, arguing that “just as people cannot own slaves, Harvard’s 12 individual schools cannot ‘own’ their alumni and limit their donations to other schools,” The Harvard Crimson reported. Bacow apologized for the remarks several days later.

Now numerous campus activists are calling for Bacow to undertake a prison divestment plan at the university, arguing that only then will Bacow truly make up for his remarks about slavery. The Crimson reports:

Some student organizations…argued that Bacow could prove the sincerity of his apology by committing to prison divestment.

The Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign condemned Bacow’s slavery comparison and wrote in a statement released on Twitter that Bacow’s words demonstrated he has a “crass understanding” of the legacy of slavery and its ties to the prison system — which they say is a continuation of slavery.

HPDC member Zoe L. Hopkins ’22 said in an interview that in light of his comments, Bacow should back divestment from the prison industry given its ties to the “legacies of violence” of slavery.

“If he had any understanding of this violence, and dared to step out of the ivory tower that is Massachusetts Hall, and look around…him, he would see the legacies of violence slavery has left behind,” Hopkins said. “And if he understood those legacies, he would have divested from prisons the moment he got here.”

The Harvard College Democrats also declared that it’s “time for [Bacow] to make his apology real by divesting our institution from the prison-industrial complex.”

The calls for prison divestment at Harvard are occurring alongside demands for the school to divest from fossil fuels. Last year, about four-tenths of one percent of the Harvard community endorsed a petition calling for the school to divest of its fossil fuel holdings.

Read the report here.

MORE: Divestment activists shut down Harvard’s president

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