The Campus Dining Advisory Board’s (CDAB) six student members have voted 4–2 in favor of continuing U of C dining-hall contracts with the Coca-Cola Company. The student movement Kick Coke Off Campus has been campaigning for the University to end its contracts with the soft-drink maker over alleged human rights violations and environmental abuses in Colombia and India.
The board met Thursday in Pierce Dining Hall at
3:30 p.m. All six board members attended. Two representatives from Keep Coke On Campus and two from Kick Coke Off Campus were also present.
According to board member Andrew Stergachis, the pro-Coke and anti-Coke students each had five minutes to present their case. “Nobody was cut off,” Stergarchis said. However, he noted that much of the debate had already occurred before the final CDAB meeting, pointing to a town-hall meeting last week as well as debates inside Student Government.
Miranda Nelson, a fourth-year in the College and one of the leaders of the anti-Coke campaign, said in an interview before the meeting that second-years Shira Tevah and Alex Moore, the anti-Coke representatives at the meeting, would present alleged flaws in the process leading up to the decision. Nelson and Moore have complained that the criteria used by CDAB, Student Govenment (SG), and the Inter-House Council (IHC) to make their decisions were ever-shifting and ineffective.
On the opposing side, Joseph Dozier, a first-year in the College and the leader of the pro-Coke group, and fourth-year Mark Herzberg, a pro-Coke activist, focused on what they saw as a lack of clear evidence that Coca-Cola had actually committed human rights and environmental abuses. Dozier reiterated his statement that, if presented with more concrete proof of the allegations, he would change his mind on the issue.
According to Board members, Dozier also presented the CDAB representatives with a list of 635 signatures on a petition to keep the company’s products, which the pro-Coke campaign has collected in the weeks leading up to the vote. The 635 signatures represent about half of the 1108 signatures that anti-Coke collected over a much longer period, although Dozier alleges that the campaign employed questionable tactics to gather the names.
Board member and third-year Ryan Kaminski countered by questioning the validity of the signatures collected by Dozier, noting that since they were combined from e-mail, online, and handwritten petitions, there was no way for CDAB to know that some people’s names were not listed two or three times in the 635 total. Dozier denied that claim, according to Kaminski, and reassured the panel that he had checked to make sure the petition did not include repeats.
Some representatives were torn between their views of what the student body wanted and the votes of their parent bodies, the IHC and SG, each of which contributes three student representatives to CDAB. Each organization recommended that their representatives vote against the measure to ban Coca-Cola products.
In an e-mail interview, IHC and CDAB representative Christopher Williams said that while he “personally disagreed” with IHC’s recommendation, he believed in the decision-making process, and for that reason voted against the proposal. Williams noted that he received 188 e-mails from pro-Coke supporters over the past week.
Stergarchis also said that although he believed that his constituency wanted to get rid of Coca-Cola products, he was representing SG on CDAB and therefore had to vote as SG had recommended.
According to Nelson and Moore, the anti-Coke campaign plans to continue working to end the soft drink’s presence at the U of C. University staff members present at the board meeting suggested that if dining hall consumption of Coke dropped dramatically, then CDAB might reconsider the issue. According to Stergarchis, Coca-Cola products currently account for 53 percent of cola consumption in the dining halls.
Dozier speculated that even without his pro-Coke campaign, the decision probably would have ended the same way. In an e-mail interview, Dozier said that U of C students, unlike those of other colleges, “did not fall victim to sentiment and sensation” and that they “researched the issue themselves.” He said that U of C students determined that there was a “lack of sound evidence” and saw the “weakness of the allegations against Coke.”