Campus Bans Coca-Cola

Until the Coca-Cola Company permits an independent investigation of the human and labor rights practices of its affiliates in Colombia, College officials have banned its products on campus and at the Oberlin Inn.

The College Purchasing Committee, composed of students, faculty, and staff, recommended the ban to President Nancy Dye early last spring after learning of alleged violence against workers and labor organizers at bottling plants in Colombia. After hosting an open forum for students, the committee asked the national non-profit Workers Rights Consortium to investigate the allegations.

“Coke outright refused to permit a WRC investigation,” says Chris Howell, professor of politics and member of the College Purchasing Committee. “So a recommendation was made to institute a campuswide ban on all Coke products, at least until the company cooperates with an investigation and no violations of human rights are found.”

The Coca-Cola case has some similarities to that of Nike. Nike products were banned on campus in 2002 after the company was found to have violated the College’s Apparel Code of Conduct. The ban was lifted in the fall of 2004, after Nike’s treatment of its workers was found to have improved.

As with Nike, the committee’s concerns surrounding Coke products reflect a widespread movement; Bloomberg News reported in March that students on 90 other campuses are urging such bans, which investors believe could hurt the company’s image among young people. At the University of Michigan, “a formal investigation is under way after students passed a resolution asking the university to end its relationship with Coke,” says spokesperson Julie Peterson. Schools with instituted Coke bans include Carleton, Bard, and Lake Forest colleges.

In response to the boycotts, Coca-Cola holds to its statement released in April 2004 maintaining that the company has “investigated the claims regarding human rights abuses in Colombia and has found no evidence to support them.” As for worker safety, Coke says that because Colombia’s history of violence against union members has touched their bottling plant, special safeguards have been instituted to protect employees.

Oberlin’s on-campus DeCafe market sold about 500 cases of Coke products annually, says Howell, while the Oberlin Inn rang up about $8,000 yearly.


photo by John Seyfried

Prof’s Final Course Draws a Full House
by Katie Hubbard ’05

“Get comfy,” says Ron DiCenzo, motioning to a worn-looking orange armchair in front of his desk. As a 23-year professor of history and East Asian studies at Oberlin, DiCenzo has well earned his reputation as an engaging teacher and advisor, an appealing combination that makes his classes among the most in-demand at Oberlin. It’s also why his upcoming retirement in May is so bittersweet.

It was cold and snowy on the January day in 1972 that DiCenzo arrived in Oberlin for a job interview. The caliber of students that attracted him then has remained constant. “They learn from me and I learn from them,” he says. “They’ve challenged me to become a more perceptive scholar and individual.”

He was key to the growth of the East Asian Studies Program and prompted Oberlin’s involvement with a student study-abroad program at Doshisha University in Japan.

His courses, which include Japanese language, traditional and modern Japanese history, and modern sub-Saharan African history, span 2,000 years of East Asian history. “His knowledge of Japanese history is encyclopedic, and his explanatory powers are gifted,” says senior Ben Pred.

“He is truly amazing,” adds senior Gabriel McCormick, recounting the moment when he realized that DiCenzo was translating notes from Japanese on the fly during his lectures.

Heather Hogan, chair of the history department, credits DiCenzo’s popularity to his “remarkable gift of talking directly and warmly to students. He’s taught hundreds of students, and he knows everyone’s name.”

So many students, in fact, were eager to get in one last class with DiCenzo this spring that he nearly doubled the enrollment of his modern Japanese history course to a full 160 students.

“Ron has inspired so many students to pursue careers in Japanese studies,” says Suzanne Gay, professor and director of East Asian studies. “Many others who didn’t necessarily go into academia talk about how Ron has changed their lives.”  
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