The following is a guest contribution and reflects the author’s views alone. For information on how to submit a letter to the editor to the Opinion Section, click here.
In 2020, Princeton University announced the construction of its newest residential college, to be funded with donations from former University trustee Mellody Hobson ’91 and the Hobson Lucas Family Foundation. Replacing the college formerly named after Woodrow Wilson, Hobson College will be Princeton’s first residential college to be named after a Black woman.
Hobson is no stranger to “firsts”; she was also the first Black woman to be selected as the chair of Starbucks Corporation, and sees herself as a trailblazer creating corporate governance opportunities for women of color. According to University administrators, the choice to name the college after Hobson represents transformational institutional change and marks a divergence from Princeton’s legacy of racism, inequality, and exclusion.
However, as we learned with the renaming of Wilson College, the actions of those we choose to recognize through the practice of naming ought to match the standards of a University community that strives for a genuine commitment to anti-racism.
Unfortunately, Hobson’s actions as chairwoman of Starbucks Corporation have not lived up to the leadership needed during this critical moment. Instead, we find this leadership in the workers and organizers who are creating meaningful improvements in the lives of Starbucks employees in workplaces across the country through unionization efforts.
Instead of standing with workers, Hobson, along with company executives and management, is engaging in an ongoing union-busting campaign intended to hinder union organizing activities and punish workers for organizing. These dishonorable actions have consisted of, but are not limited to, the retaliatory and illegal firings of seven union organizers at a Starbucks in Tennessee, known as the Memphis 7; captive audience meetings, where workers are forced to be present for anti-union presentations; intimidation from management; and anti-union flyering in the workplace.
These shameful tactics disproportionately affect workers and organizers of vulnerable backgrounds, for example, women of color, who stand to benefit the most from unionization efforts due to the particular racialized and gendered precarity they face. As a result, workers of vulnerable backgrounds often make up majorities of organizing committees and union organization efforts. The impacts of union-busting fall especially hard on them, as in the case of the Memphis 7, the majority of whom were Black and brown women.
Hobson’s claims that she advances the interests of women of color through her example of corporate governance ring hollow in the face of her willingness to retaliate against Starbucks workers and union organizers in order to secure corporate profits.
Contrary to official claims, naming our new residential college after Hobson does not address the University’s racist legacy. Rather, it obscures the manner in which Hobson and the Starbucks Corporation are perpetuating patterns of racialized exploitation in this country when they retaliate against a diverse group of Starbucks workers organizing for increased wages and better working conditions. As Princetonians, we have a special responsibility to demand better from members of our community.
Let’s hold Mellody Hobson accountable and demand that she respect the non-interference and fair election principles that Starbucks workers have established.
Christopher Lugo is a senior from Ocala, Fla. majoring in the School of Public and International Affairs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.