All posts by Will Gu

Students Demand Power Over Hiring After Job Offer To “Racist” White Professor

In an open letter to Pomona College’s Sociology Department, Dean of Academic Affairs, and President, an anonymous group of 128 students, alumni, and “allies” of the Sociology Department demand that the college rescind its offer to hire “racist” and “unethical” Dr. Alice Goffman as a sociology professor and turn over control of future hiring to students. Continue reading

Scripps Students Boycott Dining Hall, Claim Caterer is “Neocolonial,” “Racist,” and “Exploitive”

Scripps students boycotted Scripps College’s Malott Dining Hall during lunch on Thursday in order to protest Scripps’ contract with its dining hall provider Sodexo, accusing Sodexo of racism, exploitation of labor, environmental violations, and management of private prisons. Organized by Scripps student campaign Drop Sodexo, the boycott as well as a simultaneous protest outside the dining hall were aimed at ending Scripps’ contract with Sodexo. Drop Sodexo urged students to eat at other dining halls in the Claremont University Consortium (CUC) during the boycott.

According to the event description, the organizers invited students to “join the Drop Sodexo campain [sic] in protesting Scripps’ contract with Sodexo! This is a boycott of Malott lunch services on the 30th as well as an alternative community lunch event. We want to show the administration that students are serious about ending the Sodexo contract. You showing up to this event will help do that!” Following the boycott, Drop Sodexo claimed success, writing that “Malott was basically empty for all of lunch.”

The Drop Sodexo campaign organized the boycott because it claims Sodexo—a French multinational—is involved in “civil rights abuses…neoliberalism, anti-unionism, substandard food quality…racial discrimination, major class-action lawsuits, ownership of private prisons, and much more.” The students also claim that Sodexo exploits “neocolonial relationships that allow them to acquire raw materials from nations of the Global South.” Drop Sodexo also states that by “continuing business with a company that has such an extensive corporate crime record, we [Scripps] are providing a monetary endorsement for the increasing exploitation of land, people, and communities throughout the world.”

In an interview with The Student Life—the administration-funded student newspaper of the Claremont Colleges –student organizer Rebecca Millberg (SC ’17) accuses Sodexo of having “a history of horrible labor practices and food safety violations and worker exploitation,” adding that “it shouldn’t be hard for Scripps administration to see that it [the contract with Sodexo] goes completely against our values.”

Scripps administration subsequently informed student organizers that terminating Sodexo’s contract before its 2020 expiration could result in over $1 million in “legal fees and a variety of other expenses” that could “reduce funding for other important priorities, such as financial aid and faculty and staff compensation.” In a separate statement in response to students’ calls to end its contract with Sodexo, Scripps administrators stated that “the College does not have a policy of disqualifying contractors based on their client or investment portfolio.”

Drop Sodexo has suggested that “Scripps could choose any number of dining management companies besides Sodexo,” including in-house dining services. But when Pomona College — the flagship institution of the CUC — stopped contracting with Sodexo in 2011, many dining hall staff lost their positions at the College.

It doesn’t help that many of Drop Sodexo’s accusations run counter to Sodexo’s actual track record.

While Sodexo did settle an $80 million lawsuit brought by black employees on the basis of workplace discrimination back in 2005, it has since won numerous awards for diversity and inclusivity, including NBIC’s “2016 Best of the Best Corporation for Inclusion,” DiversityInc’s “2016 Top 50 Companies for Diversity,” and Working Mother’s “Best Companies for Multicultural Women.” The French multinational has also recently received awards for sustainability, its commitment to hiring and retaining military veterans, and LGBT inclusion in its workforce.

Drop Sodexo also charges that Sodexo has “a consistent pattern of interfering with worker rights in many states,” and it has criticized the company’s “anti-unionism” actions against the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). In fact, Sodexo took the SEIU to court for employing illegal tactics to unionize workers, including blackmail and extortion. Faced with the possibility of a highly damaging public relations fiasco and civil liabilities, the SEIU agreed to terminate protests against Sodexo in exchange for dropped charges.

The student campaigners have also criticized Sodexo’s food quality and safety, stating that “to avoid having allergic reactions, many students limit themselves to eating the same foods for each meal because the labeling cannot be trusted.” Malott has been rated as one of the best campus dining halls in the country by the Princeton Review.

According to Drop Sodexo, the French multinational is responsible for the “privatization of the prison industry” and has exploited “unpaid or underpaid labor from private prisons.” While Sodexo divested its investments from American private prison corporation Correction Corporation of America in 2001 — nearly two decades ago — charges that Sodexo has poorly managed private prisons abroad are substantiated, as evidenced by the Sodexo-managed prisons HMP Northumberland and HMP Forest Bank in the United Kingdom.

Sodexo has operations in developing countries such has Colombia, Guinea, Morocco, and the Dominican Republic.

Drop Sodexo did not respond to requests for comment.

Scripps Students Petition for Larger Gender Studies Program—at Pomona College

Students from the women’s-only Scripps College are petitioning Pomona College administrators in an effort to enlarge the Gender Women Studies (GWS) program at Pomona, the flagship institution of the Claremont University Consortium.

Organized by a Scripps first-year, a petition urging Pomona College to devote more resources to Gender Women Studies has already gained significant traction, having obtained its goal of one hundred signatures last Thursday. It demands that Pomona “hire full time professors for the Gender Women’s Studies Program” and “[make] a larger commitment to Gender Women’s Studies to “support women, trans people, non-binary people, and intersectional feminism.” According to Pomona’s website, Gender Women’s Studies at Pomona College focuses on “the intersection of gender with race, sexuality, class and colonialism.”

Another Scripps student, Tiara Sharma, boosted the petition in an opinion editorial for The Student Life, the Claremont Colleges’ administration-funded student newspaper. Titling her piece “Pomona Needs a Real Gender and Women’s Studies Department,” she advertises the petition and affirms its message. Pomona College, she argues, with its vastly larger endowment in comparison with those of the other Claremont Colleges, has “the responsibility to provide students [of the Claremont Colleges] with academic opportunities that they are entitled to,” criticizing what she sees as Pomona’s failure “to fulfill this responsibility in regards to its Gender and Women’s Studies program.”

Sharma—who plans to major in English and “maybe Philosophy”—also complains that the GWS program is not getting “the same resources allocated to similar departments such as Politics, Media Studies, or History.” To this point, she claims that “Pomona has not given its Gender Women’s Studies program department distinction,” as it has “only one full-time professor devoted solely to GWS.” And “as Trump and his administration continue to undermine the right of many marginalized identities,” she continues, a strong GWS program is more important than ever.

Signers of the petition echoed Sharma’s sentiments. One signee explains that she signed the petition “because [GWS is] just as important, if not more [under our] current president, as every other major.”

According to statistics released by the College, however, GWS is one of the most unpopular majors at Pomona College, averaging at a little over two majors per class in the last five years. By contrast, over the same period, nearly 46 students have majored in economics, one of the school’s more popular majors, each year. Also, according to PayScale, GWS majors make an average salary of $39,000, considerably less than the average starting salary of undergraduates—$50,556, as Time reports.

Other students have disputed the petition on different grounds. Matthew Ludlam (PO ’20) told the Independent in a message that “the problem is that this student [the creator of the petition] is under the impression that all colleges should operate similarly … To assume that all colleges need a department that does not forward the goals integral to the college is preposterous,” referring to how Pomona College, as a co-ed institution, has different goals than a women’s-only college like Scripps.

The administration of Pomona College has yet to respond to the petition.

Inside the College #Resistance

Last month, at an event at Scripps College intended to educate students on activism, I learned the art of “solidarity”—helping undocumented immigrants circumvent our nation’s immigration laws, and collectively shouting down opponents in student-led political protests.

Ever since the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States, protests of his administration and other acts of resistance seem to be happening everywhere and every day, from the streets to the town hall meetings of members of Congress. Participation by my fellow college students in the “anti-fascist resistance” (or, in millennial speak, “anti-fascist #resistance”) is the norm, yet I had been puzzled as to how my peers planned to resist and what exactly the #resistance entails.

I finally had the opportunity to find out when I attended the event held by the #resistance at Scripps College with the purpose of teaching the students of the Claremont Colleges how to “resist the fascist and white supremacist policies being espoused and enacted by our current administration” by “[roleplaying] solidarity actions.” Walking in, I only had two questions that I hoped would be answered: Will the methods of resistance taught be legal, and how is this current administration fascist? I hoped that the former would be answered affirmatively, and that someone would at least attempt to explain the latter to me.

The event began with a discussion led by representatives from the labor union UNITE HERE, who explained that they hoped to teach students about the rights guaranteed by our country’s rule of law. Besides the gimmicky antics of the speakers, who called each other “comrade” and urged “students and [the] community to fight capitalism” in one of their PowerPoint slides, the opening discussion addressed the Trump administration’s deportation of undocumented immigrants and the legal rights of undocumented immigrants in a substantive way. The speakers explained, for example, the differences between administrative and judicial warrants, clarifying that only judicial warrants give Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents the authority to search private homes for undocumented individuals, and detailed the legal processes that undocumented immigrants face if arrested.

But this substantive discussion, which lifted my hopes, soon gave way to silliness—the roleplay simulation of ICE arrests, as well as a crash course on how to disrupt and protest in the streets and in the offices of politicians.

To simulate an ICE arrest, some participants (mainly students) were given roles as suspected undocumented immigrants; others were assigned to be ICE agents. When questioned by the ostensible ICE agents, the students who played suspected undocumented immigrants were instructed to pretend to be undocumented—staying silent in the face of ICE commands. This method saddened me; to set a precedent of undermining our rule of law is dangerous, and to expect the people of our country to buy into obstructing law enforcement belittles the decency and respect for the law Americans have. The organizers called this tactic “solidarity”; by pretending to not have documents, citizens and documented immigrants can make it difficult for immigration agents to find the undocumented individuals among them. However, teaching a group of presumably documented students who are mostly citizens how to pretend to be undocumented to show “solidarity” does not seem likely to solve the problems of illegal immigration. The change in content, from explaining the American legal system to obstructing the rule of law, struck me as another example of the organizers’ unconstructive message—teaching students how to hinder the rule of law should not be the answer to perceived injustices—but this message did not end here; the speakers soon started criticizing dialogue, touting uninterrupted protest as a better alternative.

Changing course, the speakers moved to discuss how protests trump dialogue as effective and just means of resisting the Trump administration, even if they block the flow of traffic and affect local businesses. To help students understand how to protest effectively as a “delegation,” the organizers initiated another roleplay scenario. I was assigned to be a member of the “herd,” the backbone of the delegation the role of which is to project numerical superiority. Some students played the role of “speakers,” who deliver the group’s message to a “person of power,” and others played “monitors” and “herders,” who are supposed to keep the delegation together and lead chants whenever the speakers encounter any trouble, which the organizers defined as any attempt to interrupt the speakers from delivering their message, even if it was an offer for constructive dialogue. I was hopeful that my peers would not believe suppressing dialogue is a solution to their perceived problems, but their enthusiasm proved me wrong. Their enthusiasm discouraged me; dialogue, the very foundation of communicating and solving problems with people of different opinions, seems to be shunned now. We simulated storming into a politician’s office and delivering a message, with the monitors leading a zealous chant of “Let them speak!” whenever the speakers were challenged by drowning out any voices of opposition.

After the event ended, I could not help but feel disheartened. Despite the commendable determination my radical peers displayed, it seemed they were willing to shut out dialogue to “deliver their message,” avoid confronting any challenge to their ideas by simply drowning out opposition with chants, and obstruct the rule of law that has served our nation so well. They were willing to divide and label this nation which we all share into groups of “oppressors” and “resistors,” all in an effort to challenge our democratically elected, though apparently “fascist” administration.

After almost two hours of indoctrination and “roleplaying oppression,” I left discouraged with my fellow students’ radical methods and misconceived ideas about the state of America—summarized by a souvenir in the form of a pledge card asking me to “fight back against the fascist policies of this new administration” and “engage in non violent civil disobedience.” However, most importantly, even after those two hours, I still did not have an answer to one of my central questions: “How is this current administration fascist?”

______________

Image: Flickr