As rolling student fast enters second month, Vanderbilt students answer the call loud and clear!

Like Tampa area fast, Vanderbilt action snowballs, doubles within days of launch and catches the attention of University administration, local media…

Following yesterday’s exciting news of the series of 3-day fasts rolling through university campuses in the Tampa Bay region — and of the critical call to action from students at OSU — we have yet another inspiring update today, this time from the parallel student action taking place in Nashville at Vanderbilt University!  

But first… A call to action to support OSU student leaders!

Quickly, before we jump into the action in Tennessee, we want to remind everyone that makes up the vast Fair Food Nation of the critical call to action from Ohio State University students:

OSU student fasters during the March 26th Parade for Human Rights in Columbus, Ohio

This weekend, students are calling on the whole of the Fair Food Nation — people of faith across all denominations, community and worker leaders, and of course, their fellow students on campuses from Maine to California — to record a short video message for OSU’s President Michael Drake.  OSU students are asking you (yes, you) to join them in urging President Drake to honor the University’s contractual commitment to satisfying the students’ concerns about the fast food giant’s supply chain practices (satisfaction that will only come when Wendy’s signs a Fair Food Agreement) before renewing Wendy’s lease to do business on campus.  

Check out yesterday’s post for more details, and make sure to send your video by this Sunday, April 23rd!

Now, on to Nashville… 

This past Tuesday, inspired by their peers at Ohio State, U of Michigan, New College and Valencia College, four students at Vanderbilt, joined by a student from nearby Trevecca Nazarene University for a total of five, launched a seven-day fast to build the pressure on Vanderbilt to cut the prestigious university’s own contract with Wendy’s.  

Fasting Vanderbilt students setting up camp and flyering as students pass by at the heart of campus

By Day 2 of the the fast, however, the number of student fasters began to climb.  As more of the fasters’ peers learned of the Wendy’s Boycott — and their university’s own connection with Wendy’s — another student joined the remainder of the full fast, four more students committed to daylight fasts for the remainder of the week, and even more committed to a one-day solidarity fast!

Following a letter to the administration last week informing them of the students’ intention to fast for seven days, administrators quickly reached out for a meeting to discuss the situation.  On Tuesday, students sat down with dining service administrators and, just as they had in previous meetings with the university administration, presented those at the table with the rationale behind their action.  They presented evidence of the horrific abuses faced by workers in Mexico’s produce industry — conditions that include “workers forced to work without pay, trapped for months at a time in scorpion-infested camps, often without beds, fed on scraps, and beaten when they tried to quit” — where Wendy’s shifted its purchases after Florida growers implemented the Fair Food Program in partnership with the CIW.  And they presented the ample evidence in support of the Fair Food Program itself, informing the dining service representatives that the FFP is a Presidential Medal-winning Program that the United Nations expert on human trafficking declared “must be considered an international benchmark” for slavery prevention.  

Their presentation left the administrators with a simple choice: Leverage the historic university’s name and reputation to support the Fair Food Program, the undisputed gold standard in human rights protection, or sully that same name and reputation by stubbornly coupling it to Wendy’s, the only major fast-food company still refusing to join the FFP, and the only one to abandon Florida growers for Mexican agribusiness where human rights violations are endemic and go effectively unchecked.

And yet, once again, administrators were unmoved, refusing to commit to ending Vanderbilt’s relationship with the Wendy’s corporation.  Following the meeting, students reaffirmed their own commitment not only to continue fasting for the remainder of the seven days, but to escalating the Boot the Braids Campaign on Vanderbilt’s campus until the contract was cut.

Meanwhile, news of a swiftly-growing fast on Vanderbilt’s campus caught the attention of the local media.  First up, the Vanderbilt Political Review, the campus’s nonpartisan political newspaper, picked up on the progress of the fast, publishing the article entitled “Vanderbilt Students Launch Week-Long Fast in Protest of Wendy’s” just yesterday:

Vanderbilt Students Launch Week-Long Fast in Protest of Wendy’s

April 20, 2017
by Christopher St. Clair

A group of Vanderbilt students are fasting this week as part of a nation-wide protest against fast food chain Wendy’s over alleged worker’s rights violations.

The students, totaling twelve in all, started fasting on April 18th and plan to continue fasting until April 25th. The fast will culminate in a student and community march on Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos’ office on the afternoon of the 25th. [… ]

[…] In addition to declining participation in the program, Wendy’s shifted its tomato suppliers from Florida to Mexico, where farms have more than once come under scrutiny for human rights violations including wage theft, sexual harassment, and slavery.

Wendy’s responded to CIW’s and other’s criticisms last month by revamping and expanding its Supplier Code of Conduct. The agreement now lays out in detail the company’s expectations for suppliers’ commitments to food safety, animal welfare, and human and labor rights.

CIW, however, criticized the move as “hollow” and “[containing” no effective mechanisms for worker participation or enforcement.” A statement on their website reads, “Wendy’s new code represents the very worst of the traditional corporate approach to social responsibility driven by public relations rather than human rights.”

The protestors at Vanderbilt are hoping that their fast finally gets the attention of the university. “Chancellor Zeppos has an important ethical choice to make concerning Vanderbilt’s contract with Wendy’s,” said Ania Szczesniewski, a third-year student and one of the fast participants.

“We’re going without food for seven days to send the message that it is unacceptable for the university to keep doing business with a corporation that willingly chooses to support violence, sexual harassment, wage theft, and dangerous working conditions in their supply chain.”

The Vanderbilt fasters are joined by students from other universities around the country as part of the “Boot the Braids” campaign to end university contracts with Wendy’s. Students at Ohio State University partook in their own fast last month, and since then a litany of colleges have glommed onto the movement. The list includes the University of Michigan, New College of Florida, Valencia College, University of South Florida, University of Tampa, and Eckerd College.

The protestors are expecting several more schools to join through the month of May.

On Wednesday, local news channel Fox 7 spread the word about the action, highlighting the principal decision-maker on VU’s campus, Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos, as well as the critical moral decision that his own students have brought before him:

Vanderbilt students fast for 7 days in effort to boot Wendy’s off university dining plan

Wednesday, April 19th 2017
by Kaylin Searles

Vanderbilt University students are launching a 7-day fast in support of a national boycott of Wendy’s.

The students are also using this to launch their campaign to boot Wendy’s off the university’s dining program. The fast is being held from April 18 to the 25.

Advocates started boycotting Wendy’s about a year ago, demanding the fast food giant join the Fair Food Program to protect farmworkers’ rights.

A major Wendy’s Boycott student and community march to Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos’ office on April 25… read more

As we did yesterday with the growing list of student activists in the Tampa Bay region, we want to highlight the courageous young people fasting this week at Vanderbilt:

  • Tristan Abbott, senior, biology, Vanderbilt University
  • Ania Szczesniewski, third year, anthropology, Vanderbilt University 
  • Joshua Palmer, senior, physics, computer science and math, Vanderbilt University
  • Cal Filkin, third year, biology, Vanderbilt University
  • Rita McLaughlin, freshman, education, Vanderbilt University
  • Shawn Reilly, hod, senior,Vanderbilt University
  • Hamzah Raza, third year, religious studies,Vanderbilt University
  • Alan Luna, Trevecca Nazarene University 
  • Robby Marshall, third year, computer science, Vanderbilt University
  • Jamario Cantrell, freshman, sociology, Vanderbilt University (5-Day fast)

And that’s a wrap for today’s truly inspiring news from students in Nashville.  As the rolling fast continues (with more schools already lined up to carry the torch in the coming days), be sure to check back soon for even more news from the Boot the Braids front lines, and don’t forget to send in your own video to OSU’s President Drake in the days ahead!