DPU students protest Sodexho

Friday, October 6, 2006

Students on the DePauw University campus staged a protest Thursday against the university's food service provider, claiming among other charges, racial discrimination and unfair wages for workers.

Sodexho USA, based in Gaithersburg, Md., has been contracted by DePauw since 2002 to provide food services for the university's student union, as well as restaurants on campus and other university-sponsored activities and events.

The students, who organized under the slogan "we are what we eat," hung spray-painted banners and placed signs around campus encouraging students to not buy food on campus for one day as a means of boycotting the company.

The students claim that Sodexho, through past business ventures if other states, engaged in discrimination against African American employees, denied workers the right to form labor unions, and invested money in private prisons.

Locally they claim that Sodexho does not provide them with healthy food choices, charges too much at campus eateries, and does not support the local economy by purchasing food from area farmers.

"I think we could be supporting the local economy by buying locally," said Paddy McShane, a senior student who helped organize Thursday's protest.

She also told the BannerGraphic that the company serves too much of what she called "grab-and-go" food and that she and other students want to see a more healthy alternative.

But university spokesman Ken Owen told the BannerGraphic that implementing some of the students' suggestions may actually make prices go up. Further he said the university is pleased with the services provided by Sodexho.

"Our relationship with Sodexho has been very positive," Owen said.

Thursday's protest came on the same day members of DePauw's board of trustees gathered on campus for their twice-annual meeting, which gave students an opportunity to share their concerns directly with board officials.

Andy Rieth, chairman of the board's student services committee, listened to those concerns and told the BannerGraphic Thursday that the board would "take them under advisement."

Rieth declined to speculate what the trustees may, or may not, do with the information provided by the students, but he said he appreciated their efforts.

"We applaud the student involvement," Rieth said. "However I think it's only fair to expect there are two sides to this issue and it is our job as a board to evaluate both points of view."

Steve Santo, manager of DePauw's dining services, said he did not want to comment on the specific accusation being made by the students, however he said none of the claims has been shown to be a problem at DePauw.

Meanwhile, Thursday's boycott did apparently have an effect on food sales for the day.

Santo said profits were down by almost half from the previous day. However, he said sales spiked on Wednesday, causing him to speculate that perhaps some students had bought extra food in preparation for Thursday's boycott.

On Thursday, several student groups set up tables around campus and offered free food to students. Others passed out buttons reading "we are what we eat" and encouraged students to sign a petition asking the university to investigate their concerns.

McShane said she was pleased with the response.

"I definitely feel like there is a wide range of support, at least verbally, from the students," she said.

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