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Opinion: It’s time for Belmont to cut ties with CoreCivic

Over the last several years, Belmont students have made a clear point: If you’re putting people in cages, you should not be a part of our community.

In 2018, students spoke out in an online petition with nearly 1,200 signatures, calling for the university to cut ties with private prison operator CoreCivic and its CEO, Damon Hininger, after the corporation assisted ICE in housing detained immigrant mothers and children.

In 2020, students are still speaking out via a growing movement — currently hundreds of students strong — called Be Better Belmont, formed to hold the university accountable for its relationship with the corporation.

That relationship is twofold: Hininger sits on Belmont’s Board of Trustees, and the university receives financial gifts from the corporation, averaging $11,200 a year since 2008.

Be Better Belmont recently brought together a second online petition calling for Hininger’s removal from the board, which garnered over 2,000 signatures.

The petition noted a slew of lawsuits leveled against CoreCivic — numbering over 1,000 between 1998 and 2010 — as well as the disproportionate representation of people of color within for-profit prisons.

In response, the university had this to say:

“Belmont has an outstanding Board of Trustees who volunteer their time, their expertise and their financial resources to support students in a variety of ways from scholarships to faculty endowments to building outstanding facilities. This Board comprises women and men who are all accomplished professionals, committed Christians and people of high character.”

While that “high character” is called into question by the lawsuits alleging civil rights infringement, it’s downright contradicted by the racist, brutal nature of the privately-run prison — which studies have found disproportionately house people of color, according to a report by NPR.

Belmont cannot remain silent in the face of racism. Moreover, it cannot collect money and take counsel from those who cage humans for profit.

As long as Belmont continues to do these things, its Christian values mean nothing.

And in a time where the nature of law enforcement itself is being called more into question with every passing year, Belmont’s refusal to change course is damning.

Belmont has not acted enough to show it opposes systemic racism. Instead, they collect a check from it.

University President Dr. Bob Fisher has worked to build an image of Belmont’s community as both diverse and committed to Nashville’s community. In several of his most recent emails, he has said he wants to help make this city “the safest small town in America.”

If that’s true, then when corporations take lives from this community, don’t stand by and let it happen.

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