by Marcela Mulholland
World renowned civil rights activist and writer James Baldwin once said, “The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious, one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.” Along this same vein, the development of my consciousness has led me to examine the educational institution largely responsible for this development, the University of Florida.
When I first arrived at UF over three years ago I knew little to nothing about climate change, private prisons or any other social justice issues. I remember sitting in a Facets of Sustainability course during the fall of my freshman year learning about climate change and feeling angry that I had been alive for 18 years without anyone ever telling me that quite literally civilization as we know it is on the brink of collapse.
I remember speaking to a professor after class who recommended that I read “The New Jim Crow,” the book responsible for awakening me to the crisis of mass incarceration. I remember feeling confused when I first saw “Boycott Wendy’s” buttons and later learning about Wendy’s exploitative labor practices.
My collegiate experience is littered with moments like these that slowly, but surely, radically expanded my moral, environmental, and global awareness. I have my professors, peers, and the Gainesville community at large to thank for this awakening. This is to say, I have UF, and the opportunities it has afforded me, to thank. But, as Baldwin predicted, the time has come when the education I have been provided has led me to critique the very institution responsible for educating me in the first place.
Here’s the problem: Though UF publicly presents itself as an institution solely dedicated to excellence in education, research, and football, UF is a corporation; and an unethical one at that.
Specifically, UF chooses to manage its $2 billion-dollar endowment through the University of Florida Investment Corporation, a private body based out of Delaware, to avoid public interest and transparency laws.
To make matters worse, UF invests this endowment in the fossil fuel and private prison industries.
It’s clear that UF’s mission of “shaping a better future for Florida, the nation and the world” is inherently in conflict with financially supporting prison slave labor and fossil fuel companies
The egregious moral discrepancy between UF’s stated values and UF’s actual behavior has prompted students, including myself, to mobilize and create Divest UF. We are a loose collective of Gators committed to financially disentangling UF from any and all toxic industries and human rights violations. We are supported by the thousands of other college students across the country who have incited the national divestment movement to make academic institutions put their money where their mission is. Our two current campaigns are:
(1) pushing UF to divest its endowment from all fossil fuels, and
(2) demanding that the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences cut its prison labor contracts.
UF administrators want to have it both ways: they want to brag about being an R1 institution on the cutting edge of the latest scientific research, while also readily ignoring the radical implications of said science by investing in fossil fuels.
They want to brag about diversity initiatives while also perpetuating the prison industrial complex which disproportionately harms people of color.
Frankly, UF administrators care more about UF’s ranking as a top 10 public university than they do about coastal Florida’s very existence and basic human rights.
My time at UF has taught me to value science, to relentlessly interrogate the status quo, and to never shy away from calling power into question when it is at odds with my values. It is in this spirit that Divest UF is calling on UF to cut ties with prison labor and completely divest its endowment from fossil fuels.
Will you join us?
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