Before you cheer on UC prison divestment, read this

Courtesy of Melanie Cervantes
Courtesy of Melanie Cervantes

In December, the University of California made history by being the first public university system to divest its shareholdings from for-profit prison companies, such as the Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group. This decision, made possible largely by the student organizing through groups such as the UC-wide Afrikan Black Coalition, caused celebration all throughout the state. However, it is important to remember that our work is just beginning.

While the university system sold approximately $25 million of its shareholdings from the prison companies, it still holds shares in Wells Fargo, which consequently owns over a million shares in the same for-profit prison companies. Conveniently left out from the mainstream media reports, this pivotal piece of information demonstrates the lack of clear commitment from the University of California. With one hand, they are washing the blood and guilt off themselves. Yet, with the other, they’re investing in the financial security and longevity of companies who continue profiting off the labor of black and brown bodies through privately owned prisons.

Support for prisons isn’t the only ethical problem facing Wells Fargo. In May 2015, the city of Los Angeles sued Wells Fargo due to employees opening unauthorized accounts for customers and surprising them with unnecessary fees and damaged credit. The city of Oakland also sued the multibillion dollar corporation because of their practices of steering minority borrowers toward more expensive and higher-risk loans, while continuing to offer more favorable loans to white borrowers.

What’s more, the corporation is infamous for its over-promotion of sales culture. When Wells Fargo increased the sales quota for its employees in 2013 to 20 products, employees were stressed over how to make the quotas. Considering each shift is around eight hours and that it takes about an hour per customer, this goal was overly demanding of its employees. Former employees have reported instances where their supervisor told them that they would end up working at McDonald’s if they did not meet the quotas, providing no sense of stable income or employment for its 279,200 employees.

This love affair with Wells Fargo is deeply rooted in the history of the University of California. At its San Diego campus, there is a Wells Fargo Hall made possible with a $5 million donation from the company itself. Furnished with goods such as state-of-the-art conference rooms, a center for executive development, an auditorium, a behavioral laboratory and an MBA student study lounge, this further ties the university and the company together. In 2002, Wells Fargo continued to impress the university system by offering a $1 million scholarship to support San Joaquin Valley high school and community college students entering UC Merced.

This is not the first time that the University of California has had contradicting priorities founded upon its own personal political agenda.

The University of California enjoys using the word “diversity” as their vision for the university system, yet across the UC are astonishing examples of anything but. After the passage of Prop 209, which prohibited race-specific outreach and financial aid, minority enrollment dropped. In selective campuses such as UCLA, underrepresented minority enrollment dropped from 27 percent of the admitted pool to a mere 13 percent from 1995-1998. The intention to diversify the UCs was present, but just like the prison divestment, the UC regents failed to recognize what further action would be required to accomplish their goal.

While the regents have vowed their commitment to preventing sexual assault on campus, a former UC Santa Barbara student recently decided to sue the University of California for ignoring her Title IX claim. Due to emotional trauma resulting from her attack, the student’s academic performance dropped, forcing her to unenroll from the university. While consent culture has been emphasized, once a need-based situation arises, the regents don’t know how to prepare for the flurry of requests in a timely matter.

What’s more, the university system is created with the intention of serving California students and maximizing opportunities for our personal development, yet only one student sits on the Board of Regents. Held to the expectation of representing all 10 campuses and the specific needs that come with each campus, this puts students in an unfavorable position of not allowing our voices to be heard on the policies, budgets and initiatives that directly affect us.

The way we spend our time and money speaks volumes about the priorities, values and commitments that the university system promises to upkeep. Is it a matter of empty rhetoric, or a lack of long-term strategic planning about what it actually takes to see such goals achieved?

It’s time for clear answers from the regents themselves on where they stand on issues that affect the students they service. The only thing worse than apathy is merely dipping your toes into an issue instead of being fully pledged to help problems that students undergo day-to-day. Let’s celebrate what’s been done so far, but remember that we still have a long road to go, Highlanders.

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