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Activists Call For Action From Trustees

By Diego Cupolo | The Daily Campus (University of Connecticut) | 3/2/06
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The agenda for Wednesday's Board of Trustee meeting was slim, but the board still had their hands full as student activist groups called for action on various issues pertaining to the university. The UConn Animal Rights Club (UARC), United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and Bring Coke to Justice (BCJ) took turns during public comment to bring light to their causes.

Justin Goodman, a graduate student and former president of the UConn Animal Rights Club, was first to take the podium and told a story of a rhesus macaque monkey called Cornelius. Throughout the experimentation processes at the UConn Health Center, Cornelius would constantly vomit and have seizures. Goodman said amount of anxiety the monkey suffered during the research made studying his brain useless and called for the Health Center to stop using primates in experiments.

Then a representative for Connecticut United for Research Excellence (CURE) took the podium and responded to Goodman's claims by pointing out the benefits of primate research. He said many advances in treating HIV have been achieved by using animals and explained their vital role in medical science.

Various anti-sweatshop activists took turns to talk about the university's role in dealing with companies utilizing foreign sweatshops to make their products. There was a strong showing from BCJ, a group asking the university to end its $1.2 million deal with Coca-Cola due to the unethical treatment employees receive in foreign bottling plants. Caroline Cusano, an 8th-semester philosophy major and BCJ member, said UConn is damaging its own image by supporting a company that is violating human rights.

Rob Helmuth, an 8th-semester marketing major and head of research for BCJ, said the group has contacted university President Philip E. Austin and feels there is not enough action being taken to end the Coca-Cola contract.

"They've raised the issues and now I'm just waiting for recommendations from various committees," Austin said. "I respect the activists and what they have to say, but it will take time to deal with the issues they are bringing up."

Helmuth said he is dissatisfied with the university's stance.

"The problem with their responses is that it creates a discontinued process of decision making," Helmuth said.

Faithful in his cause, Helmuth said believes his group can make a difference by using the University of Michigan as an example for their fight against the Coca-Cola corporation. After reviewing the treatment of Coca-Cola employees, Michigan made an example for American universities by refusing to extend their contract with the company.

Student Trustee Salmun Kazerounian said he is happy to see various student activist groups working together to raise awareness about both human and animal rights on campus.

"With the university's athletic prestige and purchasing power we have the potential to do a good deed and improve the working condition of workers around the world," Kazerounian said.

After the public comment session ended the board moved on and approved the few items on the agenda - among them, an occupational health psychology program in the psychology department was passed. The merging of the chemical engineering and materials science and engineering departments was given the thumbs up, and the board authorized the renaming of the health center's Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling to the Richard D. Berlin Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling.

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