NYU Prison Divest demands NYU drop Aramark

nyuVia Washington Square News | By Htoo Min

A petition circulating the NYU community is asking the university to divest from Aramark Corporation — a food provider that has serviced 16 locations across NYU’s New York City campuses for over 20 years — due to concerns about the company’s practices.

The petition, which was created by NYU Prison Divest, has been supported and signed by several hundred students and alumni, according to the group. In a statement to WSN, NYU Prison Divest said that the university should use more ethical and responsible food sources, and has made recommendations to the university accordingly.

The petition states that its goal is to end the relationship between Aramark and NYU, citing allegations published in a PBS article as reasons why the university should disassociate itself from Aramark. Prisoners in sites serviced by Aramark have reported finding maggots and rocks in their food. The company has also been accused of sexual harassment and misconduct by Aramark employees toward inmates and an employee smuggling drugs into prisons.

Vice President of Corporate Communications for Aramark Karen Cutler said that Aramark strives to provide a safe environment in the public and state prisons that it serves, and it specifically works to provide incarcerated individuals with a meal that meets all nutritional specifications. The petition calls for the university to divest from private prison companies, but Cutler said that Aramark cannot be categorized as such.

“We do not manage or operate correctional facilities or do any business with federal penitentiaries or private prisons,” Cutler said. “We provide meals to offenders in state and county correctional facilities in the United States. We help these facilities maintain safe, stable environments for millions of offenders, officers and staff every day.”

Cutler said that the correctional facility determines the nutritional specifications for the menus that the company creates, including calories, portions and religious meals. She also said that all menus are designed by registered dietitians to meet the nutritional requirements specified by the facility.

NYU Spokesperson Matt Nagel said that Aramark serves a wide variety of institutions, but in no way benefits from privately institutionalized individuals. When considering NYU’s long-running history with Aramark and the facts presented,Nagel feels that NYU should not have a problem continuing relations with Aramark.

“Aramark is a large, nationwide food services company that serves many different types of institutions, including hospitals, universities and school districts,” Nagel said. “They have indicated to us that they provide services to county and state correctional facilities but do not, in fact, provide services to private or federal prisons.”

Nagel said that based on the facts at hand and the university’s experience with the company, NYU sees no reason to alter its arrangement with Aramark. But NYU Prison Divest believes the action in and of itself is symbolic.

“Ceasing contracts from Aramark sends the message to formerly incarcerated persons that NYU is an institution that is actively working to truly be an all-inclusive university, as they so call themselves,” NYU Prison Divest said. “Formerly incarcerated people sometimes feel discouraged by the presence of ‘the box,’ so one can only imagine that NYU’s having contracts with a company such as Aramark could be ever so discouraging these folks from even applying to NYU.”

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