Private prison industry giant GEO Group has promised a $6 million gift to Florida Atlantic University in exchange for naming rights to their new football stadium. Yes, the GEO Group logo will plague the school’s stadium building for at least the next 12 years...
Or will it?
Interesting move for a for-profit prison company whose track record is marred with abuse and inadequate medical care among other human rights violations. Up until the announcement Tuesday, GEO Group ran their prison business largely under the public radar. Just three days later, however, the controversial deal has been covered by numerous news outlets from the Huffington Post
to the New York Times
(who quoted Grassroots Leadership’s very own Bob Libal), two petitions -- from the DREAM Activists
and Beyond Bars
-- are circulating the web, one with over 9,000 signatures, FAU students organized a protest
, and even Stephen Colbert weighed in on his Comedy Central show
You don’t pay $6 million to brand a stadium unless you want the spotlight, and GEO Group certainly got what they paid for. Unfortunately for them, the people are not impressed.
The university’s president, Mary Jane Saunders, said, “they're a wonderful company and we're very, very proud to be partnered with them.” But if GEO Group is so wonderful, why did someone by the name of Abraham Cohen make 14 changes in a span of 6 hours
to GEO Group’s Wikipedia page
in the “Controversies” section the day after the FAU announcement? Replacing shameful accounts of poor management with corporate banter from GEO Group’s website, this Abraham Cohen happens to have the same name as a spokesperson for GEO Group.
Fortunately, the company’s apparent attempts to frantically clear their name just as the spotlight was getting hot did not go unnoticed. Wikipedia users took to the web to delete the new content and restore the list of controversies to GEO Group’s page, citing that Abraham Cohen’s comments violated the site’s neutrality principles with frequent use of the words “our” and “we”. Consequently, the company’s failed whitewashing attempts have only provided activists and the media with even more fuel to expose GEO Group’s prison profiteering and scandalous past.
So after the nearly weeklong hailstorm of bad press, the question still remains: What will FAU and president Mary Jane Saunders have to say for themselves? Twenty-two-year-old FAU student and elected member the student government, Noor Fawzy, told the Miami Herald
, “We don’t want our university to be associated with an entity that is being investigated for human rights abuses.”
After a student-organized protest this morning at FAU
,we are one step closer to getting an answer. Today at FAU, around 100 people showed their opposition to naming the stadium after GEO Group, and afterward, about 40 students conducted a sit-in outside of President Saunders’ office. At one point, she allowed three protestors to enter her office, and in the end she agreed to a public meeting on campus this Friday at noon to discuss the decision.
Will bad publicity and student opposition have President Saunders thinking twice about her decision? Or, as Barry Petchesky from Deadspin simply stated, “is $6 million worth being evil?”