Students and faculty protest Dining Services conditions

After a year of research, the United for Better Dining Services (UBDS) student leaders held a formal protest and meeting in order to deliver their demands to President David A. Greene.
The students met in a Lovejoy classroom at 3:20 p.m. on Monday, March 2, where the group leaders drew a map of their protest route and distributed signs and protest materials.

The UBDS students gave each protestor a sheet with activist chants, such as “Hey, Hey! Ho, Ho! Unfair wages has got to go” [sic] and “The People, United, Will never be defeated,” as well as the lyrics to The Beatles’s song “All You Need is Love.”

As the protest moved from Lovejoy to Eustis, 20 students went upstairs to Greene’s office and presented the UBDS protest, which has gained about 300 signatures. Four students remained in Greene’s office for a closed meeting, which had been scheduled beforehand.

Ana Sofia Solis Canales ’18, Brian Martinez ’17, Marina Arcuschin de Oliveira ’16 and Hiya Islam ’15 attended the meeting, and in a release to the UBDS email list, Aruschin said, “We went over the demands in the petition and updated [Greene] on the Sodexo Awareness Week that we hosted. The discussion quickly spiraled to our projected budget and he asked us what we were willing to compromise, and whether we thought about that.”

After the meeting, Greene released a statement to the Echo confirming his openness to conversation: “I found the discussion I had with students to be very productive. They are approaching a complicated set of issues thoughtfully and with real care. I suggested to the students that we spend some time together in the coming weeks looking at the major issues they raised to better understand them, to consider tradeoffs, and to see if there are some areas where we might be able to make a difference in the near term. I am looking forward to those conversations.”

Islam commented that Greene was very open to discussion and wanted to express his desire for discourse around this subject and other student concerns. They also said that Greene “started explaining economics to us and about how the wage raise would affect the situation on campus.”
Islam said that these effects could include tuition raises, department funding changes, and might need to come from various endowments or fund-raisers.

In terms of budget issues, UBDS leader Ester Topolarova ‘17 commented, “there are many ways to get money at this college. Having the Davis building built didn’t make us cut any departments… if we can build a million-dollar building without cutting anything, why can’t we find the 3.5 [million] maximum to help the workers here?”

“It’s not about oppression Olympics and saying ‘oh, this department needs more money,’ it’s about pulling a lot of little funds,” Islam said. “That’s why we want to have this open forum so that people can come together and talk about it. Bigger departments have been talking about how they would be fine with having a tiny amount cut and having those funds allotted to this…. We’re also students, we’re not the experts on this. People who get money know how to get money, and we hope we can learn from them. We trust Colby’s administration and we hope we can work with them to make this very simple thing happen.”

Topolarova said that the students are not looking to cut any of their proposed budget. “I think in order to ensure that the workers have a safe working space without being scared of every month and every payment, we need to go for all of these issues, and we would prefer not to compromise. I don’t think we should stop pushing for the other things.” Martinez and Canales did not respond to a request for comment.

One of the biggest issues facing the UBDS protestors is the campus backlash. Islam said, “One of the things that’s been coming up on and off is ‘where are the workers?’”

A Sodexo employee who wishes to remain anonymous commented that they wish the UBDS team had consulted with the workers before beginning their campaign: “You have to lie with your friends before you sleep with your enemies.”

SGA President Justin Deckert ’15 released his own comment on the matter, distinguishing that his opinions do not represent SGA as a whole. “I am convinced that have not consulted that many Sodexo employees about how they feel about the movement and their current employment status,” he said. “In my own conversation with a few employees, they voiced that they were outraged that this group has decided to represent them in this way. One Sodexo employee told me that she never asked for an advocate and is actually very happy with her employment situation. She feels like she is being misrepresented by this group when she never asked for them to represent her interest.”

He also discussed the UBDS leaders’ means of communication. “While I support improved working conditions and wages for our dining employees, I philosophically disagree with how this group has decided to go about making that change. SGA is a body that is set up for students who want to make positive change on campus and in our community. It is a vehicle that has direct access to administrators and can facilitate discussions on issues that are important to students.”

Deckert went on to discuss how this method of action has impacted the movement’s effect on the campus: “I believe UBDS has alienated many students and has limited their influence with administrators. I’m not sure that their end goal is ‘improving working conditions’ or rather simply to make noise for the sake of being activists. There are mechanisms set in place for students to voice grievances and make positive change on campus without alienating a large portion of our community. UBDS has decided that they do not want to use these channels of discourse.”

Islam and Topolarova both acknowledged much of the negative feedback toward the movement, but they remained positive that UBDS will be able to bring the change they demand.

“Hopefully, since we’ll be working with the administration, we can get to a point where our information will be more updated and we can understand if it’s really possible and if the students are ready to make those compromises,” Islam said. “There’s a whole lot of confidential information that we just didn’t have access to, and that we now will hopefully have better access to.”

Greene and other administrators continue to request open conversations. According to Islam, Greene is planning another two to three open forums with UBDS and the rest of the community in order to further address the budget concerns the movement faces.

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