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Student activists gather to voice their frustrations with Ohio State

Student activist groups lead “Disorientation” teach-in at Lazenby Hall on Wednesday. Credit: Courtesy of Elizabeth Andromeda

Various student activist groups came together on Wednesday for a “DISorientation” to voice their concerns on various actions taken by Ohio State.

Among their worries were a lack of a minimum-wage increase for campus employees, involving itself with human rights-violating companies, failure to support eco-friendly policies and failure to support victims of sexual misconduct.

Student leaders from Young Democratic Socialists of America, Student Farmworker Alliance, Renew OSU, International Socialist Organization and the OSU Coalition for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions each gave presentations on their concerns with Ohio State that are most central to their groups.

“The main objective was to give a presentation on some of the exploitations and oppressions going on on campus and to show students ways that they could be involved in fighting back and to have a more just campus,” said Carrie Stratton, class of 2018 alumna and member of International Socialist Organization.

Rachael Birri, member of Student Farmworker Alliance and a third-year environmental science , presented her criticisms of Ohio State.

“They put in so much effort into hiding the things they don’t want to talk about and tout the things they are doing that oftentimes aren’t enough,” Birri said.

Student Farmworker Alliance claimed to have worked for the past few years to get Ohio State to remove Wendy’s from campus, citing that Wendy’s failed to sign the Fair Food Program, an initiative to support and protect the human rights of farm workers.

“It’s a model for ways that everyone could deal with sexual assault in any work place,” Birri said, noting her frustration with “the fact that OSU is saying that they are willing to support a corporation that is denying that model and a corporation that is refusing to stand by farm workers.”

In response to these claims, Ben Johnson, Ohio State’s director of media relations, said that the university has worked with Wendy’s to ensure that they source their produce from suppliers that provide their workers appropriate conditions.

“Ohio State engaged with Wendy’s actively for two years and, in early 2017, Wendy’s began implementing an improved supplier Code of Conduct,” Johnson said. “Ohio State has evaluated Wendy’s code and its audit methodologies for ensuring ongoing compliance by its suppliers. We are satisfied that Wendy’s code and its auditing practices meet or exceed industry standards and are consistent with university values and expectations.”

Presenters also acknowledged issues with sustainability on campus. Renew OSU presented Ohio State’s corporate investments and listed goals of OSU to and divest in companies that use fossil fuels and reduce its own fossil fuel usage.

“I’m an ecology student and I can’t get my head around the fact that we’re still invested in fossil fuels,” said Angel Brekalo, co-chair of YDSA and a fourth-year in evolution and ecology.

The connecting issue between all the groups, however, was Ohio State’s dissolving of the Sexual Civility and Empowerment Unit, a resource for survivors of sexual assault, in June. The organizations cited a number of reasons for Ohio State to implement more resources for survivors.

Brekalo accused Ohio State for not following through with its promise to implement an alternative resource at the start of the year.

Ohio State announced a replacement to SCE on Aug. 21, although all the specifics have not been hashed out.

“The ultimate structure and nomenclature of the centralized office is still being discussed,” Johnson said. “We look forward to participation and feedback from students, faculty and staff.”

Birri also noted that the lack of resources for survivors and mental health services makes Ohio State not an LGBTQ-friendly campus.

“I don’t think you can call yourself LGBTQ-friendly if you don’t have some sort of sexual assault resources, especially for trans people and people who are non-binary,” said Birri, noting also that mental illness rates are high among queer and transgender people.

Campus Pride, a national nonprofit dedicated to LGBTQ inclusivity ranked Ohio State among the top 30 for LGBTQ-friendly campuses in a 2018 report.

Another issue of discussion was the “Fight For 15” campaign, an initiative to raise the campus worker minimum wage to $15 an hour, that passed in last year’s Undergraduate Student Government election but has not been enacted.

“YDSA has been working on ‘Fight For 15’ for the past year,” Brekalo said. “We got it passed through the student body, and the Board of Trustees has not acknowledged the passing of this. The stipulation with that is they have to talk about it in a meeting.”

Following the various presentations, meeting leaders announced that they will protest as a collective on Thursday to voice all of their concerns with Ohio State.

“It is to protest the issues going on at Ohio State, but it is also to kind of gauge the energy on campus and to see what we should do next,” Stratton said. “I’m interested to see how that energy and having this new wave of freshmen here will impact the political climate on campus.”

In addition to raising awareness for each organization’s focus, the meeting functioned as a gathering to further connect the groups and their respective members.

“I think we brought out some new people who aren’t already involved in activism and also activists for other organizations who might not know about what we’re doing,” said Ethan Ackelsberg, International Socialist Organization member and graduate student in mathematics. “More broadly, this was about being able to unite with other groups.”

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