Oberlin students conducted a boycott against some on-campus dining halls earlier this month in an effort to force the college to end its contract with its catering provider, Bon Appétit Management Company. Students taking part in the protests argued that the college should switch “to a self-management food service model.”
Full disclosure: My alma mater, Hamilton College, also used Bon Appétit for its dining services and food and tried to appeal to the “sustainable” sensibilities of stupid college kids by generally serving sh***y food. Lentils. So. Much. Lentils. At least when I was there, the college certainly earned its progressive stripes because of its practice of hiring individuals with criminal records.
After Oberlin’s Student Labor Action Coalition organized a panel with student employees and food-service workers, “worker concerns with Bon Appétit’s management surfaced.” After hearing about the alleged unfair labor practices, some students decided a strike against the dining hall was the best way to show their solidarity.
“They were just very adamant about issues, and a lot of the issues about Bon Appétit came to light,” SLAC Co-Chair Jeeva Muhil said. “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.”
Thankfully, Oberlin’s little Sandinistas were saved from starvation after two college co-ops and the Agave Burrito Bar & Tequileria donated food.
In place of an outsourced food provider, Oberlin students and some members of its cafeteria staff argue that an in-house dining system, with the college directly hiring its own employees would lead to better food and more equitable outcomes for employees.
Counter cook and cashier Matt Kubach said:
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. 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. I think if you’re cutting out a large chunk of what you’re paying Bon Appétit, you can achieve that a little more easily.
One idea not yet proposed by Oberlin students or employees is converting the entire campus into a giant collective farm. Further, perhaps students should begin questioning the underlying fairness of even having campus employees. After all, why should individuals have to subject themselves to the humiliating task of serving rich, white people?