Oberlin students seek to socialize dining halls

Oberlin College students boycotted on-campus dining services earlier this month to protest the school’s contract with Bon Appetit Management Company.

The protest was organized by the Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAC), which wants Oberlin to switch to a “self-management food service model” in response to concerns about Bon Appetit’s management practices, according to The Oberlin Review.

[RELATED: Oberlin students complain about culturally appropriative food]

Those concerns were initially articulated at a worker’s panel hosted by SLAC in April, during which Campus Dining Services (CDS) employees complained that Bon Appetit does not value their input, particular with respect to improving food quality.

“You know, they say how they get organic food, but it’s half-rotten when it gets here,” said Milton Wyman, chair of the Oberlin chapter of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, which represents CDS staff. “They buy in such large quantities that it sits on the docking lots before they can get it all out.”

“They were just very adamant about issues, and a lot of the issues about Bon Appétit came to light,” SLAC co-chair Jeeva Muhil told the Review. “We know that this is a really important time of financial transition for the College, so we talked about having an action to really raise awareness about Bon Appétit and really put getting rid of it on the table, in a broader sense.”

[RELATED: Clemson apologizes for serving Mexican food]

Muhil also revealed another motivation for the boycott, however, complaining that Bon Appetit provides food services to companies in the prison, oil and gas, mining, construction, and defense industries.

Indeed, Muhil noted that Oberlin students had boycotted Sodexho, the school’s previous food-service provider, in 2001 merely for having investments in a private prison company.

“The original goal of the ‘Not With Our Money’ campaign was to go to self-management, and instead the College got rid of Sodexho, and instead brought in Bon Appétit,” Muhil recounted. “And Bon Appétit is also a shareholder in Trinity Services, which caters to the prison-industrial complex.”

SLAC and UAW want Oberlin to switch to self-managed dining services, claiming that several other schools utilizing that model are ranked higher in dining than Oberlin.

CDS worker Matt Kubach told the Review that he personally supports self-management because he considers the current system tainted by profit motive.

“When we report to somebody, we’re reporting to an organization that’s a for-profit. The rest of the campus is a non-profit, and obviously you’ve got to make money, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got to make a ton of money,” he argued. “I kind of feel Bon Appétit wouldn’t be here if they weren’t making money. I don’t think they’re here for good will. I think for me, personally…what I would like to see in the dining program is to just try to break even—provide the fair wages, try to lower the room and board cost.”

[RELATED: Students ‘fear’ Chick-Fil-A will jeopardize ‘safe space’]

Cashiers reported a sharp decline in transactions at Oberlin’s three dining halls during the one-day boycott, calculating that just 342 students showed up for lunch and 474 for dinner, compared to a normal average of more than 1,000 diners at each meal.

Instead, many students attended an alternative dining option provided by SLAC, exceeding the venue’s capacity and forcing the group to provide overflow seating for students outside, where they sheltered themselves from the rain beneath an underpass.

Campus Reform reached out to both SLAC and Bon Appetite for comment, but SLAC did not respond and Bon Appetit declined to provide a statement.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @katierzehnder