This morning both student and non-student activists could be heard chanting, “Say no to GEO Group, just how low we gonna stoop? Don’t just spoil our name for dirty money, Mary Jane!” as they marched from the Free Speech Lawn to President Mary Jane Saunders office.
The Stop Owlcatraz Coalition — a student group recently created in response to the naming rights deal with the GEO Group — organized at 10 a.m. to protest the controversial renaming of the FAU football stadium after the GEO Group, a Boca Raton-based corporation that operates private prisons.
The $6 million donation over 12 years would grant naming rights of the stadium to the GEO Group, who have had charges filed against them for several human rights violations, including sexual misconduct in their youth detention facilities and illegal drug smuggling.
Nearly 50 protesters marched to Saunders’ office from the Free Speech Lawn an hour later and staged a sit-in.
Planning for the protest began on Feb. 20 when the Stop Owlcatraz Coalition created a Facebook event for the protest.
Student groups, including Students for Democratic Society, Lambda United, Students for Justice in Palestine, and student human rights group ASAP (Be Aware Share and Act for Peace) participated in the protest along with several non-student, community activists.
During the sit-in, the protesters hand-delivered a written statement prepared by the Stop Owlcatraz Coalition to Saunders’ office.
“We are protesting because we believe that institutions of higher learning like FAU have the responsibility to stand up to the systemic racism, corruption and human rights violations that define the prison-for-profit system, and advocate instead for the equality and human rights,” the statement read.
The protestors also delivered an editorial, titled “Six Million Dollars, Zero Sense,” condemning the deal. The editorial was written by Gabi Aleksinko and Noor Fawzy, two members of Students for Justice in Palestine.
Aleksinko, who read the editorial aloud in the lobby of Saunders’ office, said that “FAU students trust that our school stood for integrity, ethics, and honor. We sincerely hope that our university will restore that faith.”
Dr. Kevin Lanning, psychology professor and the faculty associate to the president, delivered the students’ demand to speak to Saunders. This led to three students speaking to her in her office in an attempt to get her to come out and answer questions.
Lanning did not plan on participating in the protest. According to him, he “was in his office and saw them coming in and decided [he] would step in.”
Lanning told the group of students that he would resign from his position as faculty associate to the president if Saunders did not uphold her agreement to meet with the students and hear their demands.
Gabi Aleksinko, Gonzalo Vizcardo, and Rory Padgett, who helped organize the protest, entered Saunders’ office to speak with her after over an hour of protesting.
According to Lanning, Saunders requested that the students turn off their cell phones before entering her office so that the conversation would not be recorded.
In the meeting with the three students, Saunders agreed to listen to students and faculty concerned with the deal negotiated between FAU and the GEO Group at a later time, according to Aleksinko.
The protesters sat outside of Saunders’ office and claimed they would stay until Saunders came out and spoke to them.
And they did.
Christine Segreto, a non-student activist from Lake Worth, drafted a list of questions the students had about the meeting Saunders proposed. When Lanning delivered the list to Saunders, she agreed to come out of her office and speak to the protesters.
Saunders agreed to meet with the protestors and other concerned students and faculty on Friday at noon in the recruiting room of the stadium.
“I think this is a wonderful opportunity to think about the impact of privatizing prisons and to think about the impact of our immigration laws,” Saunders said to the students after coming out of her office.
According to Saunders, students, faculty, and community members will be welcome to the meeting and are encouraged to ask questions.
It has not yet been determined who will moderate the meeting.
President Saunders will meet with students and faculty on Friday at noon in the recruiting room of the stadium. The UP will keep you updated on details as they progress.