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Student activists should go national to get voices heard

By Andrew Elmers

Section: Opinions

March 13, 2015

Brandeis has a large population of students who are passionate about issues occurring on campus, around the country and across the globe. For the most part, these students take action concerning the topics they are passionate about. A recent example of this is the opening of the Rape Crisis Center (RCC), which was an initiative motivated by student concerns. One reason this project reached completion was because the target was local—students needed to get the administration and board of trustees to accept the fact that more help needs to be given to survivors of sexual assault. Students knew where to voice their concerns to actually make things happen.

When it comes to problems that effectively break the Brandeis bubble and affect more people than those just on campus, directing protests at people and groups on campus won’t really enact any sort of change. Look, for example, at the Sodexo problem. Though it could probably be said that any large, multinational corporation running food services for a smaller college would instill much derision, Sodexo is still doing a pretty poor job, and students are not happy with their efforts. Often students have posted on Facebook or participated in other forms of protests to showcase their unhappiness about finding a hair in their food or something else. And while this is effective in convincing the rest of the community, and even some administrators, that the food services here are bad, it probably won’t force Sodexo to actually change anything.

With the way contracts work, it would be pretty fruitless to try and get the university to change the food service provider, especially since we just switched from Aramark two years ago. Student activists on this issue have been aware of that and focused their vitriol to surround the actual quality of the service and food. Yet they target their claims at the Sodexo management who work here at Brandeis (whose jobs really aren’t in jeopardy if a group of students are unhappy) instead of trying to find a way to actually hurt the company’s bottom line and force them to react.

Students joke about how Sodexo also services prisons and hospitals, pointing out the apparent lack of quality in our own food service provider, yet we should be using Sodexo’s large client base to our advantage. If students here at Brandeis feel slighted by the quality of food here, it would make sense that the vast other amounts of students, patients, prisoners and employees at other sites feel the exact same way. Millions of people across the world are probably really upset with Sodexo, yet they are still “the largest quality of life services company in the world,” according to their website.

So what should be happening is that Brandeis students should be working with students at other schools, as well as anyone else that wants Sodexo to make a change, and create an actual national protest against Sodexo’s practices. If enough people speak out against Sodexo, and in a concentrated effort to get the main points across, eventually Sodexo will see enough of a dip in their bottom line to necessitate finding a new way of doing business. Right now, they can quell displeased crowds at a small student university in Massachusetts or a hospital in California. Yet, when those voices are joined together, that task becomes much harder.

Look at the issue of divestment. Many student activists want the school to divest from fossil fuels. These students aren’t concerned about the school’s endowment or the future of their financial situation; they simply care about the environment and preserving the planet. Getting high-profile schools, such as Brandeis, to formally divest from fossil fuel companies extremely helps the green movement. And while these student activists haven’t been successful yet, they know exactly what they need to do in order to get there.

I don’t know what the most effective way in actually affecting Sodexo’s bottom line is, but a larger base can create a national conversation on these food service providers. Sodexo might then have to actually improve their services.

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