The University System of Maryland Student Council will not support the termination of the contract-and-vendor relationship between the system and Maryland Correctional Enterprises, as requested by the #OccupyTowson movement.
The council’s president, Gayon Sampson, announced the decision in a Nov. 24 news release, stating that after reviewing the proposal, the council needs more time to research the issue before taking an affirmative stance.
“Without a comprehensive understanding of the intricacies of this relationship, including how it affects prisoners participating in the program and the role this program plays in USM institutions’ acquisitions, we believe it would be rash and ill-advised to advocate for the termination of contracts with MCE,” Sampson wrote in the release.
On Nov. 18, black students at Towson University — using the #OccupyTowson hashtag — protested for eight hours outside of interim President Timothy Chandler’s office until he signed their list of 12 demands to improve the university’s commitment to diversity.
These demands included increasing the number of tenured and tenure-track black faculty, enforcing the university’s policies on nondiscrimination and sending a letter to the USMSC president “regarding the review and termination of the contract, vendoring, and purchasing of appliances, tools, furniture and any other items produced within Maryland State and Federal prisons.”
The students who submitted the demands state in the document, “we find it problematic that we finance the same institution that profit [sic] off of black bodies.”
Maryland Correctional Enterprises hires inmates across this state to build items for hospitals, state buildings and colleges, including the University of Maryland. These products include desks, beds and dressers for the university’s dorms, offices and classrooms, Ashley Lohr, MCE executive assistant, told The Diamondback in May.
The MCE has partnered with this university for more than 30 years, Lohr said, and sold an estimated $3.5 million in furniture to the campus in 2014.
Despite the council’s decision, Sampson said the council is “wholeheartedly committed to addressing issues of diversity and inclusion” and will create a task force that will look into the issue and submit a final report to Sampson by March 1.
The issues of racism and lack of diversity on college campuses has gained traction after recent events at universities nationwide. At the University of Missouri, President Tim Wolfe resigned Nov. 9 after complaints that he poorly handled racial incidents on the campus. At Yale University, debate over offensive Halloween costumes similarly sparked protests.
Students at this university protested in support of renaming Byrd Stadium — named after former university President Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd, who protesters say was racist — on Nov. 18 before the Frederick Douglass Square dedication ceremony.
As of Nov. 23, at least 65 universities submitted their own list of demands to combat racism on their campuses, according to thedemands.org. This university is not listed as having submitted demands.