Eve Kaufman ’20
Picture Malott, a notorious dining hall destination. It has not always been such a contested space — in fact, until recently, it was not common knowledge that Sodexo, the catering company responsible for Malott’s food, also operates private prisons across the world. After Sodexo’s investments and practices came to light, many Claremont students found it difficult to remain silent. This discomfort fostered an intergenerational movement that would span years of friction between students and administration.
“At Scripps we are taught about the prison-industrial complex (PIC) […] When it comes to aligning our mission statement to our practice, it’s deeply uncomfortable,” said Sophie Peters ’20, one of the current organizers of Drop Sodexo, the movement to end 5C dining halls’ contracts with Sodexo.
The movement initially began at Pomona College, a former Sodexo client. It took organizing power from all five campuses to successfully pressure the administration to oust Sodexo as a contractor.
Sodexo’s long-running contract with Scripps is up for renewal in 2020, which presents an opportunity for Drop Sodexo.
“Drop Sodexo is very much focused on actually trying to accomplish the goal of ending the contract with Sodexo,” said Niyati Narang ’20, SAS President and Drop Sodexo organizer. “Scripps students have put the energy toward and indicated this to be a priority for Scripps students.”
If the movement succeeds, Scripps would be the second 5C campus to sever ties with Sodexo. Each effort is a highly strategized and intensive campaign, targeting one campus at a time, and requiring support from all 5Cs. Organizers hope that after Scripps, other campuses such as Harvey Mudd might be able to address their own support of Sodexo.
“A win will certainly bolster more action,” Peters said, suggesting other campuses would receive the full support of galvanized Scripps students. As for taking on another project in this moment, “We don’t do anything ceremoniously” Narang stated, noting that adopting Mudd would work only as a performative action.
Though a specific date has yet to be announced, within the coming two weeks, Scripps will interview new catering companies and has reportedly committed to place a special emphasis on candidates’ ethics, worker treatment and investments. Sodexo is known for its particular lack of consideration when it comes to any of these issues, but it is not the only major multinational that profits from private prison management—plenty of other large domestic corporations employ prison labor or otherwise invest in private prisons. In fact, many dining hall providers in the U.S. hold such affiliations. Investing in prisons is typical practice, as prisons provide sources of cheap labor, and tend to have lucrative payouts for private companies who benefit from the exploitation of the U.S. justice system. “[Drop Sodexo is a] way to help people realize the implications of the PIC don’t just live in prisons, its on college campuses… it’s all around us,” Peters said.
That is not to say Malott itself is responsible. Scripps College employs most of Malott’s staff, who will not be affected by a new supplier, reports Peters.
For Narang and Peters, maintaining space in the conversation for Malott staff is a priority. According to the organizers, based on discussions held with staff they have found support for the movement, and various actions.
“Drop Sodexo really supports [the staff], and they support us,” said Peters. The recognition of Sodexo’s practices is strong between the groups, and now the main concern is getting Scripps administrators to follow through on the request of multiple generations of students and workers from across the 5Cs.
This push to Drop Sodexo began in most recent memory in 2017, following revelations that a Sodexo-contracted company had used domestic prison labor to build furniture that was then acquired and distributed throughout Scripps’ campus. This led to a particularly large protest, motivating Peters to become involved. She joined the Malott boycott and became inspired by the overwhelming support and crowd. At a pivotal moment, Peters chose to stay on board and continue organizing.
Narang became involved after taking a Scripps course on politics and organizing at Scripps. Sharing the class with the upperclassmen leading the movement at the time, Peters soon found herself swept up in activism. Narang and Peters have carried the organization with the guidance of alums and the support of incoming classes. They even studied abroad in opposite semesters to maintain a presence on campus.
Understanding and learning from the roadblocks previous Drop Sodexo efforts faced, Narang ran for SAS President to gain a direct channel to the Scripps administration. She now has a standing meeting every week with President Tiedens, and can navigate inter-grade dynamics with ease. Part of Narang’s job is introducing first-years to campus, and she makes sure to include an in-depth history of the politics on campus and the current political climate. Drop Sodexo comes up immediately.
Drop Sodexo has remained powerful throughout its iterations because it engages all class levels on campus. Narang listens to and represents these different years through her position. It’s a consciousness that has united student generations, those of which have already graduated to our new first years and transfer students. Current organizers even continue the dialogue with graduated organizers through FaceTime.
This continued connection, along with the passion of the organizers and the support of students and faculty alike, have bolstered support for the movement prior to the upcoming announcement of the dining company finalists this month. Last semester, Drop Sodexo garnered over 1000 signatures on a petition to drop Sodexo, and in recent months hundreds of emails were sent to Scripps administration as an additional effort.
More recently, Drop Sodexo has ensured that a comprehensive list of questions be asked of the prospective dining hall companies in review. The list is substantial, and concerns not only ties to prison labor, but also other things such as workers’ pay and healthcare as well as sustainability practices.
“Once the companies are announced, we will be doing a lot of research into them to see if they align with Scripps’ standards,” said Narang.
With the new companies up for consideration, this coming year might mark the end of the movement, the moment Scripps drops Sodexo.
“This has been built on the backs of so many organizers,” said Narang “and this is the final push.” So what can the collective community do now? “Show up,” said Peters and Narang. The following weeks will be crucial to the history of Scripps and now is the moment students will decide its future.
Following the announcement in the next two weeks, Drop Sodexo organizers will release information regarding potential new contractors as they receive it. Staying educated and up-to-date on this rapidly growing movement will impact how the student body enters the next semester and empower them to vocalize and support the best choice come the final days of Sodexo’s contract in Spring 2020. When the prospective companies come to campus next semester, the community should be informed and vocal, and ready to speak up to finally close this chapter of Scripps history. Maybe then Harvey Mudd can begin its movement, too.