University of Washington School of Public Health

UW SPH News: Dean's Statement April 29 2016

Dean's Statement April 29 2016


The following statement was issued by Dean Howard Frumkin after meeting with student activists over the issue of prison divestment.

This afternoon several dozen activists, including students, staff, and faculty, visited my office.  The focus was on mass incarceration, especially of people of color, and on UW’s involvement in that process (through investments in prison industries, and through procurement of goods from state prisons). 

As I told the activists, I fully agree with them in principle.  Mass incarceration in this country functions as a form of racial oppression, it is devastating to millions of lives, and it undermines both public health and social justice. 

However, I wasn’t ready to sign the activists’ statement.  It was a tough conversation.  I saw our disagreement as being on tactics, and the activists saw it as disagreement on principles.  I’m afraid we missed some opportunities for bridge-building and mutual support. 

I think the immediate priorities are to fully define UW’s involvement with the prison industry, and to identify how best to end that involvement—work that is ongoing, led by UW student Regent Vanessa Kritzer.  I strongly support this momentum.  Importantly, it owes much to the activists’ initiative, which I applaud.

As this work goes forward, I’m committed to ongoing conversation, working toward trust, common purpose, and shared action.

See the Dean’s Dispatch for more on this issue, and for an update on the Race and Equity work group.