Pitzer’s “Free Wall” was recently painted with a message exposing Pitzer College Board of Trustees member Robert Fairbairn for profiting off of the concentration camps on the US-Mexico border. Fairbairn serves as the vice chairman of BlackRock Fund Advisors, the second-largest stockholder in the GEO Group, which owns an ICE processing and detainment center in California. In addition to its investments in ICE, BlackRock also invests in defense contractors who manufacture weapons of genocide and destruction in Palestine, Syria, and Yemen. While much of the conversation surrounding the recent painting (and repeated coverups) of the “Free Wall” have been centered on Robert Fairbairn himself, it is necessary to extend this critical lens not just to individual Board of Trustees members, but to the college as an institution.
Fairbairn is not one bad apple out of an otherwise respectable group of wealthy Trustee members with undue influence over the college’s finances and decisions; he is representative of Pitzer College as a whole. As an institution, the college’s proclaimed core values are used solely for marketing purposes. When it comes down to tangible, material matters of social justice, the college will take the side of the oppressor every last time. This can easily be seen in last year’s campaign to conditionally suspend the Pitzer study abroad program at Haifa University until the university stopped barring entry on the basis of race/ethnicity and political speech. Passing College Council with 67 affirmations and 28 negations, the motion was a monumental win, marking the first college in the country to vote to suspend a study abroad program in Israel. However, less than four hours after the vote, President Melvin Oliver nullified the decision.
Profiting off of injustice is nothing new for Pitzer; it is the college’s one true core value. Melvin Oliver and Robert Fairbairn, both individuals who protect and uphold the aparetheid state of Israel, are not the problem with Pitzer. Pitzer is the problem.
Further reading on the topic: