MSA pushes for representation at forum

It can still be a springboard for students to discuss issues, challenge opinions and decide for themselves.

Oby Max Page and Monica Heth
Guest Columnists

on behalf of the Minnesota Student Association, we would like to respond to last week’s opinion piece by Amit Srivastava and correct a number of inaccuracies presented.

Starting last year, MSA’s Forum met to discuss the allegations of human rights violations in Columbia and environmental issues in India against Coca-Cola Co. Based on student input, MSA recommended that the University initiate a formal investigation into the allegations. Additionally, MSA resolved to plan an educational forum for students on the issues.

Starting in April (before we officially took office), we began planning this forum with the goal of providing an educational evening that presented a comprehensive overview of the issues, as well as a panel discussion comprised of a wide spectrum of opinions so that students attending could make up their own minds.

Toward that end, we spent the summer months working to continue collaborations with student groups including the most active group in the campus area, Students United for Corporate Responsibility and Ethics, and contacting external organizations like Killer Coke and United Students Against Sweatshops.

As we were attempting to find a wide variety of viewpoints opposing Coca-Cola, we successfully appealed to Coca-Cola leadership to participate in the panel. After Srivastava was confirmed to speak on the issues regarding India, the final piece of the puzzle was to find one more speaker opposing Coca-Cola.

As we failed to hear back from national leaders on the issue, we began to turn toward local leaders on the issue. A mere five days before the event, Gerardo Cajamarca’s name was finally passed on to our organization. Why his name was not given to us until less than a week before the forum is still unknown to us. By this time he was unavailable to present.

Earlier this week, while MSA was planning final elements of the event in efforts to create a safe and welcoming environment for students to hear a wide variety of opinions, we were extremely disappointed to hear of Cajamarca’s unavailability. To our dismay, a student speaker from Students United for Corporate Responsibility and Ethics also canceled. The day before the event, Srivastava canceled. The only panelists willing to follow through on their commitments were Coca-Cola representatives. To the detriment of our event, no panelists with oppositional views to Coca-Cola would attend.

Srivastava wrote, “We are committed to working with students at the University to highlight Coca-Cola’s criminal activities.” We are disappointed that his lack of attendance conflicts with his words.

MSA has tirelessly worked to fulfill the request to present this educational forum, and provide a wealth of information and resources on the issues. Contrary to Srivastava’s argument, “Without adequate representation, it could become a forum to whitewash Coca-Cola’s crimes”; the forum can still be a springboard for students to discuss the issues, challenge opinions and ultimately decide for themselves.

Max Page and Monica Heth are president and vice president of the Minnesota Student Association and are University students. Please send comments to [email protected]