Last night over 100 concerned UW-Madison students arrived at Gordon Dining Hall to show solidarity and to protest a new mandatory meal plan for students living on campus, labelling it discriminatory towards working class families, students on scholarship, students who have faced homelessness and more.
Announced in December, the plan would require new incoming freshman who plan to live on campus during the 2018-2019 academic year to add a minimum $1,400 onto their Wiscard accounts throughout the year on a quarterly basis, which is to be used exclusively on meals in the the Gordon Dining Center.
Associated Students of Madison (ASM) quickly denounced the bill in a statement, calling it discriminatory towards students of lower income, students with specific dietary restrictions, and students with religious needs. Students later created a petition signed by fellow students, parents, alumni, staff, and more condemning the Meal Plan, which received over 3,600 signatures. The petition was co-authored by UW student Rena Newman, and UW alumna Brooke Evans.
Many students gathered at the Gordon Commons’ entrance around 5:30pm and began circling the hall expressing their dismay with chants like “Hey hey, ho ho, this meal plan has got to go” and “No justice, no peace. This meal plan, can’t eat.”
After several chants, many regathered to listen to the stories and concerns of fellow students who also spoke on the behalf of others. Students of different ethnicities, orientation, genders, religions, and socioeconomic statuses came to show solidarity for one another, creating a “united front of students” expressing their dismay over the meal plan, according to student Sylvia Johnson.
“This policy is wrong, discriminatory, and must be eliminated. If you want to talk, Novak, you’re talking to all of us,” she said, referring to Director of University Housing Jeff Novak.
“We didn’t find out about this policy through University transparency. You know how we found out? We found out about this policy through a news story,” said Newman. “We weren’t even a part of the decision. The $1400 rule requires low income students to fork over money they do not have. Requires students with dietary and medical restrictions to pay for food that they cannot eat. Requires students who observe Kosher and Halal to pay for food that breaks their religious codes. Removes the agency and autonomy of all students to decide when and where and how they eat. And on top of all that, there has been little to no specific information about how this policy reacts with financial aid, leaving students totally in the dark.”
“My little cousins who look up to me because I’m the first person from my family to go to college…It’s telling to them that this future is not for them,” said Mario Carillo, a representative of The Student Labor Action Coalition. “Student workers are afraid to voice their concerns for fear of retaliation, I’m here to share a few words from them. You all know what it takes to work hard to study at this place. To work hard and to realize that this plan is going to make it a lot more difficult.”
“Everything you building that’s new…that’s food in my stomach,” said Cortez de la Cruz.
“It’s time to the show the University that we will no longer be submissive and allow them to exploit us and our dollars,” said Tyriek Mack, a UW-Madison student and an organizer of the demonstration. “On average a person is graduating from UW-Madison with $30,000 in debt. The University is a place where 50% of the student body qualifies for financial aid. Our fight is to ensure that this university remains accessible to lower income students. Our fight is to ensure that no student graduates with debt. That goes for tuition, books, housing, and everything else miscellaneous. Our fight is the fight that ensures that students and families aren’t being exploited. Our fight is the fight that world wide…globally…that we have the right to education. This is a public institution. You have to realize this is way bigger than the Meal Plan.”
The students then linked arms in front of the payment area and began more chants, gating the food area, expressing how they feel with the new payment plan chanting “I can’t eat,” and eventually tossed dozens of dining hall trays on the floor to make another visible statement. After about 20 minutes of demonstrating, the students cleaned up the trays and regrouped elsewhere for a meeting to plan their future steps.
“The point of this is that students have the courage to stand up against admin, despite their policies intended to dissuade us from protesting.” Mack said.
“There was a diverse amount of voices heard from different backgrounds tonight. I don’t feel like lower income student’s voice, students on scholarship are being heard.” said Ekene Ikegwuani, another organizer and representative of ASM. “We want to let the administration know that we are still unhappy about this. The next step is to keep this moving forward. Show admin we are not about this plan. Keep fighting every week.”