Kayla Byler / Lantern photographer
What started as a peaceful rally to pressure Ohio State to end its contract with Sodexo Inc., ended with nine protesters being taken away from President E. Gordon Gee’s office in handcuffs.
Nine people were arrested and charged with criminal trespassing and one man was also charged with resisting arrest during a protest when the group refused to leave the lobby just outside Gee’s office on Monday afternoon.
About 100 people gathered for the rally just after 2 p.m. between Sullivant Hall and the Wexner Center for the Arts. The crowd held banners, chanted, banged drums and used homemade noisemakers to raise awareness about alleged workers’ rights abuses by OSU contractor Sodexo.
The student group United Students Against Sweatshops organized the rally to protest OSU’s contract with Sodexo Inc., an international food and facilities management company.
At about 2:30 p.m. protesters began to march and chant down High Street before cutting back toward Bricker Hall, where Gee’s office is located. The crowd marched across the Oval, drumming and chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, Sodexo has got to go.”
About 40 of the protesters entered Bricker and staged a sit-in outside of Gee’s office. The group shouted and banged on drums and buckets in an effort to bring Gee out of his office to discuss the contract. Two OSU police officers blocked the entrance.
Gee never emerged.
About six uniformed OSU police officers surrounded the group shortly after its arrival. The protest remained peaceful, but at about 3:15 p.m. police told the group it could only stay if it kept quiet. The group complied and began to quietly share stories about Sodexo’s alleged abuses.
Just a few minutes later, police informed the protesters through a USAS member that they were trespassing and would be arrested if they did not leave the premises.
At that point, all but a few of the protesters left the building and continued chanting outside. Nine students refused to leave. The small contingent began to shout, “This is what democracy looks like” as police handcuffed them.
Seven of those arrested were OSU students: Ryan Marchese, a fourth-year in international studies and USAS president at OSU; Natalie Yoon, a second-year in international studies and USAS secretary; Carolynne Grace Jones, a student in public affairs; Casey Ellen Slive, a student in geography and international studies and student assistant for the office of energy and sustainability; Terasia Bradford, a student in French and globalization studies; Isaac Paul Miller, a student in exploration; Hutchinson Srisoontorn Persons, a student in philosophy and employee for OSU academic affairs.
Two other protesters were arrested, but OSU police said they were not OSU students: Adrian Evangelos Bradley Jusdanis, 21, of Columbus and Christopher Ian Wells, 28, of Stone Mountain, Ga.
Wells was also charged with resisting arrest because he refused to walk with police. Wells lay flat on the sidewalk outside Bricker on 17th Avenue and was finally carried by his arms and legs to a waiting cruiser.
Nick Pasquarello, a third-year in psychology and sociology and USAS member, said the group of USAS hoped to have a conversation with Gee about Sodexo that would end with OSU canceling its contract with the company.
“We were prepared in terms of planning to, if it comes to that point, to have people arrested,” Pasquarello said. “We were willing to come to that point, but we didn’t want to go to that point. We just wanted to have a civil conversation about this, but was denied.”
As of Monday at about 9:30 p.m., all nine arrested people were still in custody.
Benjamin Hood, a first-year in psychology, said he thinks the arrests were appropriate.
“I mean, they warned them, ‘Hey you’re trespassing, and they don’t want you in this building and you can protest outside,'” Hood said.
Pasquarello said USAS has made previous efforts to reach Gee with their message, including hosting a national USAS conference at OSU in February, which included a similar protest outside Gee’s office. No arrests were made during that event.
“We’ve basically done all you can think of up to this point, in terms of bringing this to his attention, and we’ve been ignored,” Pasquarello said.
Sodexo has a $10 million contract with OSU to provide food and facility services for OSU athletic facilities. USAS, which is a national organization, has alleged Sodexo has blocked employee efforts to unionize and has allowed racist and sexist practices.
Sodexo did not return repeated calls for comment on the protests.
OSU spokesman Jim Lynch said the university values diversity of thought and opinion, but the arrests were necessary to ensure safety.
“The university has been working cooperatively with this student group for some time and another meeting had been scheduled for later this week,” Lynch said in an email to The Lantern Monday.
OSU has consistently stated the matter is between Sodexo and the Service Employees International Union.
“We believe that every employer is entitled to vote on representation and we should not infringe on the rights of either party,” Lynch said in an email. “We hope that both sides will come to a satisfactory solution.”
An increased police presence was noticeable at the Ohio Union shortly after the arrests were made and the protest ended.
Katie Walker, a first-year in psychology, was in the Union Monday night and said she was wondering why there was so many police there.
“I usually don’t see many of them,” Walker said. “It’s good to know they’re here just in case something did happen.”
OSU Police Captain Eric Whiteside confirmed the officers were there because of the protest.
“We’re obviously going to be very respectful of people’s first amendment rights but if there are any problems, we’re just here as a presence and to take action that needs warranted,” Whiteside said.
There were no demonstrations at the Union Monday night.
Pasquarello said he hopes the arrests will further pressure the university to end its contract with the company.
“I just hope the bad media and bad publicity that is going to resonate from this action is really going be felt by Gee,” Pasquarello said. “Hopefully that will put pressure on him to make the right decision.”
Chelsea Castle contributed to this story.