Workers in Solidarity (SWS) on campus were likely introduced to the group and its cause on Wednesday after the group hosted a rally on the quad and, later, a sit-in protest at the administration building. The purpose of these events was to bring attention to the claims of workers’ rights violations surrounding Sodexo, Emory’s campus food service provider, and to demand an end to the sub-contracted agreement that the University holds with Sodexo.
Bold demonstrations and political activism are both recognizably rare on the Emory campus, and for this reason, SWS must be recognized and commended for its efforts to engage students in the cause and its success in generating high levels of passion amongst its members. Nearly 100 people were present at the rally at one point, and about 30 students participated in the sit-in demonstration. The protestors only evacuated the building in response to pressure from law enforcement officials, camping out in front of the building for the duration of the night instead.
We believe that the administration’s response was an appropriate one: Students were first given numerous warnings and then told that they would be charged with conduct violations if they did not exit the building, which they were occupying past open hours at the time. Administrators called DeKalb County police in as a final measure after these initial steps proved ineffective, employing a gradual approach which seems to demonstrate a certain level of respect for the students. The steps that were taken also adhered to a pre-existing University protocol that outlined a response for these types of situations.
While the sit-in demonstration may have appeared drastic to some students — protestors directly demanded the end of the University’s contract with Sodexo and called for University President James Wagner to admit the that workers’ rights had been violated at Emory — it undeniably succeeded in some aspects. The protest drew significant attention and publicity to the cause — many students were notified about the sit-in by word of mouth and forwarded email notices from members of SWS as it was taking place. The occurrence was also discussed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s blog.
But despite achieving greater visibility for SWS and its mission, the event would be rendered counterproductive if more students focused on the legal issues surrounding the protest than the actual cause it sought to promote. Now that the issue has been brought to the forefront of the minds of several students, many of whom might have been unaware of this issue before Wednesday, SWS must clarify its purported objectives as much as possible in order to be maximally effective in promoting its cause.
For example, the group has met with Wagner numerous times during the past year, but the exact purpose, content and outcome of these meetings has been relatively unclear. While calling for radical action may have been effective at the sit-in, SWS should now build upon that attention by turning the focus to articulating specific steps and time frames for these end-state goals, which may currently appear lofty and vague to many students. The ultimate aim to remove Sodexo from campus seems ambitious, and it is SWS’s responsibility to communicate the attainable first steps.
Finally, we encourage administrators to maintain a level of accessibility and actively pursue areas of potential compromise. In order to advance the issue forward, both sides of the debate must assess all concerns thoroughly and reflect upon realistic, achievable measures that can be taken. We realize that the University’s contract with Sodexo is a complex issue that cannot be resolved immediately, but we also believe that effective collaboration can yield tangible progress. Ultimately, any issue concerning questions of ethics should be an important one in our community, and we hope that this one will be treated with due consideration.
The above staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s editorial board.