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Just Show Up: A Conversation with the Leaders of Drop Sodexo

By Anna Mitchell
Staff Writer ’22

A rally, a protest, a petition delivery. And then, they waited. We waited. Until, on Monday 25 March, President Lara Tiedens sent out her official letter of response. In this email, President Tiedens failed to make commitments or to address the demands of student organizers.

After reviewing President Tiedens’ response, I checked in with leaders Griffin Cloud PZ ’19, Sophie Peters ’20, and Alex Hammond ’21 on the status — past, present, and future — of the Drop Sodexo movement. We exchanged greetings, shuffled our chairs, and then, over the bustle of Seal Court on a sunny evening, began our conversation.

Anna Mitchell (AM)

How are each of you involved in the Drop Sodexo movement?

Alex Hammond (AH)

I’m Alex Hammond, I just recently got involved this year, so I think we’re all kind of… co-leaders — we all work on most things together.

Sophie Peters (SP)

I’m Sophie Peters, I’m a junior at Scripps and I’ve been involved since the spring of my first year, when the first boycott of Malott took place and since then there was another boycott last spring and recently we had the rally and the petition drop. And yeah, we’re all three…co-leaders, spread the work evenly.

[At this, they exchange a knowing laugh. As you might imagine, this campaign requires effort. A lot of it.]

Griffin Cloud (GC)

My name is Griffin, I’m a senior at Pitzer, and I got involved my sophomore year and… [I have] been a part of it ever since, as a co-leader and participant.

[Alex notes Griffin’s role in connecting to national groups, like Uprooted and Rising. Dinner goers file in and out of Malott, plates and bowls heaped high.]

AM

What did you make of President Tiedens’ response to the petition?

AH

I think it was pretty expected, unfortunately. In the TSL article, they mention that she has been receptive before and that’s the thing: she does say that she will consider it, but, in administrative speak, that just means they’re going to do whatever is cheapest.

AM

So did you think that her response was, essentially, not a response?

GC

It was passive. As it’s always been, I think, in our experience dealing with [Tiedens] and the administration. And she says it right in the letter: they don’t make promises. Nothing is for certain, even the demands we set out, you know, simply not resigning the contract with Sodexo, that wasn’t even a part of the conversation in the letter that she sent out…

SP

Yeah, I agree that it was definitely expected, and that she mostly just sounded good on paper, and worded it in a way where our demands were not taken seriously. I think we were disappointed with the response.

AM

Have you talked to any other students about it, or heard any responses from other groups on campus, having received her letter?

GC

I mean, personally I haven’t talked to any other groups on campus, but from talking to other students, no one’s really surprised…it’s just very much consistent with all the administration in that this is how they operate. They’ll look at a problem or issues that are presented by the student body — or even faculty, because faculty are very much involved in this movement — and address it in the exact same manner.

AM

Do you feel like it was in any way a detriment to the work you’ve been doing or that dialogue will lessen on campus, now that the petition has been sent, or are you building to a next step from here?

SP

We’ll definitely be continuing our campaign from here because our demands were not met.

[Nodding, agreement all around.]

AH

One of the difficult things is that this has been going on for so long that it has been hard to get a lot of momentum at a specific moment because all the students are like, “Yeah, we know this is going on, nothing has changed, what are we supposed to do about it?” So, it’s hard to get a lot of people involved in a concrete action.

SP

But it’s a perfect time because the contract does expire summer of 2020 and the request for proposals will be going out soon. So I think the momentum can still build but we don’t currently have it…

GC

And we will be sending a letter of response to Lara Tiedens, addressing our qualms with it and restating the demands…and I think one of the big things is we want to make sure this is an open dialogue. That it’s not behind closed doors, that we’re really bringing in the student body and faculty into this conversation so they know what President Tiedens is saying and they know what we’re saying.

SP

Yeah, we definitely want communication to be out in the open, and for any student, faculty, community member to know that we welcome their help, their input, and that we want this to be a group effort.

TSV

Is there one reason you would tell people who aren’t involved why this is an important movement?

GC

Well I think this movement is very grounded in community, even just in the sense that it’s the workers that are also being affected by who is managing this dining hall, and we have to consider the workers a part of the community, because they’re out here everyday — literally blood, sweat, and tears — to make sure our lives are that much better and that we are enjoying ourselves, eating good food, and are happy. And they’re there supporting us.

SP

And if we say that we’re for things like food justice and worker rights and prison abolition, then we have to make sure we’re examining our own lives, the institution around us, and how it affects the dining hall workers and the entire community to be involved in a system like the one Sodexo perpetuates.

AH

I don’t really care what you say, I care what you do. And so, when you are not doing what you say, your values are — well, you’re just lying.

[Laughter, ripe with meaning. Clearly, this statement resonates.]

TSV

Do you feel like that relates to Scripps’ approach to sustainability on campus?

AH

Definitely. One hundred and ten percent.

SP

Yeah, I mean, if we were able to move to in-house management, there would be many more ways for the dining hall to supply more ethically grown and sourced food. Pomona has in-house management and they definitely have more flexibility in where they can get their food, whereas Sodexo essentially gets kickbacks from large food corporations, so our food can be flown in from anywhere in the world in any condition, and we don’t really know about it. It’d be really cool to actually get to study food justice and then, you know, practice it in our dining hall.

TSV

Does it make a difference, in your opinion, if students choose to eat at Malott, as it exists now?

AH

I was talking about this with someone the other day, they were like, “You eat at Malott? How dare you!” and it’s like, well, first of all, the workers there are a huge part of our lives and I just feel like food always brings people together, and, especially with something like taking a stand against a management company, we want these workers to stay here. We love these people and they’re a part of our community, so it’s important for us to interact with them in eating there and making sure that they know we’re here to support them and are taking a stand against the management company and not them as workers.

TSV

Is there a way that students or other community members could get involved? Is there a specific thing people could be doing, whether it’s trying to get to know workers at Malott or whether its, say, signing a new petition?

SP

I think that conversation is not really enough at this point. We love how the community has engaged with us on a conversational level about the issues, but we really do want support when we have action. So for people to actually come out, for people on their own to email or have their parents email…

AH

Parents especially!

SP

Get to know the workers, and come to our meetings.

AH

Yeah, just like, show up.

Yes. Show up. Show your support. Meetings are held typically once a week, based on availability. To find out more information, you can contact dropsodexo@gmail.com.

[Dishes clatter out front of Malott, as we rise and thank each other. The light is fading, but, as it has become clear throughout our conversation, their hope and conviction are not.]

With a new wealth of perspective, I revisit President Tiedens’ email. She concludes the message with: “Decisions about food service on a residential college campus are important for so many reasons, as I know you appreciate. For that reason, we will take a deliberative and careful approach to this decision. This means it will take some time, thorough analysis, many voices, and much discussion.”

A deliberative and careful approach is indeed what the petition called for — and more. It detailed specific measures. As Sophie, Alex, and Griffin have elucidated, these measures were circumnavigated, disregarded, and, effectively, avoided.

These are leaders seasoned in resilience. An energy seems to sweep through the din of Seal Court, murmuring hope and action. We must take initiative, and refuse to quit.

 

Since this interview, the Drop Sodexo organizers’ response, crafted with concision and emphasis on Tiedens’ failure to adequately respond to their demands, has been sent. They continue to prepare for next steps.