February 12, 2001

Ithaca College to Hold Forum on Sodexho

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Ithaca College will host a college-wide forum tomorrow to address the ongoing debate between the students and administration involving their food-service provider, Sodexho Marriott, at 6 p.m. in the Emerson suites of Phillips Hall.

Seven student protesters at Ithaca College recently took a seat in the administrative office of the college in hopes of scoring a meeting with President Peggy Williams on the issue of Sodexho Marriott Services.

The 34-hour sit-in, which began at noon on Dec. 5 and ended at 10 p.m. on Dec. 6 was an attempt for the students to express their concerns over Sodexho Marriott’s supposed ownership of stock in the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private prison company.

The seven students who participated in the IC sit-in are all members of the Young Democratic Socialists (YDS), a campus organization that has been striving for months, in conjunction with other campus groups, to educate the Ithaca College students on the Sodexho Marriott issue.

Sodexho Marriott, the largest food service provider to schools, colleges and universities in North America, has recently come under attack by student activist groups on various school campuses across the nation. The protesters are taking part in a nationwide students activist group known as the Prison Moratorium Project (PMP). PMP has accused Sodexho Marriot Services of owning stock in and deriving profits from the prison industry.

“Our dining dollars are essentially going into the prison industry,” said Mark Frank, a junior at IC and co-chair of YDS. “People should not be making money off of crime.”

The sit-in finally ended when Williams agreed to meet with the students in order for them to express their concerns. According to Frank, Williams has final say over the Sodexho Marriott contract.

“What we eventually want is for the school to discontinue its servicing by Sodexho Marriot,” Frank said. “A clause in the contract states that a 90-day notice of departure from the company can be given if the school is dissatisfied with the service. This would allow the school to take action.”

Sodexho Marriott, which has faced criticism from Ithaca College since the campaign against the food service provider began around April of last year, claims innocence.

“We met with the leaders of the organization last year and explained in good faith who we were,” said Leslie Aun, Media Relations for Sodexho Marriott headquartered in Maryland. “But these students seem more interested in wanting to gain attention for their organization by unfairly attacking our company than in looking at the facts.”

Aun explained that Sodexho Marriott does not have stock in CCA. Instead, according to Aun, Sodexho Marriott’s largest shareholder, Sodexho Alliance, owns these shares. “We are not in the prison business,” Aun said. “If you have a complaint with the quality of your coffee, we can help, but we do not own or operate prisons, therefore attacking us on this matter will not do anything for these students or their cause.”

The students directly involved in the incident voiced differing opinions on the outcome of the sit-in.

“Looking back on the incident, I feel that it was a great stride after not being listened to for so long,” said Grace Ritter, a freshman at IC and member of YDS. “The process, including our efforts on campus prior to the incident, has definitely educated a lot of people on campus.”

Other students had a more skeptical outlook on the results of the

group’s efforts.

“I don’t feel like we ever had an audience in the administration,”

said Frank. “We had hoped for an honest conversation with the administration, [but] we were patronized and never received a truly honest audience.”

Aun explained that deciding to discontinue service with the company would not be accomplishing the goals of the students. “It is an unfortunate situation, and we certainly do respect the rights of these students, but the group would be better served by contacting state legislatures or other key officials who actually make the decisions regarding private prisons.”

Present at the forum tomorrow will be Robert Stern, senior vice president and general council of Sodexho Marriott, Michael Jacobson, professor of criminal justice at John Jay College, and PMP activist Kevin Pranis.

To date, Sodexho Marriott continues its service to Ithaca College, but the administration has informed the student protesters that it will release its decision on whether or not to continue its affiliation with Sodexho Marriott on March 19 of this year.

Archived article by Aylin Tanyeri