A small group of disgruntled students gathered outside of West Side Dining during Campus Life Time this past Wednesday to protest the new “swipe to enter” meal plan.
The new system, which features buffet-style all you can eat options at three locations on campus — West Side Dining, Roth Cafe and the Union Commons — has been met with opposition. Many students are concerned that the quality of food and variety of options has greatly decreased from last year despite significant price increases.
“Is this a $3,000 experience you’re having right now?!” shouted sophomore biochemistry major Nicholas Puleio, who lead the charge of students who stormed into West Side without swiping. Beside the few university police officers standing on the sides in case the protest got out of hand, the students were allowed in uninterrupted.
Despite the vast influx of complaints aired on social media, only a little over a dozen students participated in the protest, organized by Puleio with help from members of the Coalition of University Students for Progress. The group was originally founded as Seawolves for Sanders in support of the former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
“I was actually surprised that so few people came” said Puleio who was expecting a crowd of around 200 based on the response to his “Occupy SBU Dining” Facebook event page, which generated interest from 470 students.
“I think a lot of people may have been persuaded by the emails from Sodexo,” he said, referring to several memos sent out by the food service provider promising improvements such as increased staff to cut down on wait times and an app featuring daily menus so students know what food is available before swiping in. “Personally I would not believe it until I see change.”
Despite the low turnout, the group remained enthusiastic, disrupting the calm dining hall as they chanted “Hey, ho, ho-ho! Sodexo has got to go!”
Although the demonstration was mainly focused on the qualms of students, labor rights were also briefly highlighted. “Workers! Do you get paid enough?” shouted one protester.
His question was met with a firm “No!” from a table of Campus Dining employees who were gathered in the corner on their lunch break.
Since the new system has been implemented, “we’re twice as busy, but they’re still not hiring anybody,” said one employee, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity. “Now we’re doing more work but for the same pay. [Sodexo] keeps telling us, ‘Help is coming. Help is coming.’ But it never does.”
After about fifteen minutes of speeches in West Side, the protesters quickly began to lose the attention of bystanders. In an attempt to keep the energy up, the group made their way across campus to the SAC, but much to their dismay, their chants were all but drowned out by the ongoing involvement fair.
Puleio admits that the event didn’t turn out quite how he had envisioned it, but that he still feels it’s important for the student body to voice their opinions and utilize their right to free speech. He plans to continue to speak out against Sodexo, whether it be through another protest or by circulating flyers and petitions.
“They already have your money, so any changes that are made could easily be reverted back,” Puleio said. “The only thing that will continue to keep the school accountable is a student reaction.”
Clarification: Sept. 9, 2016
A previous version of this story reported that Nicholas Puleio organized the protest with help from the Coalition of University Students for Progress. The story has been updated to reflect that Puleio organized the protest with members of the coalition, not the Coalition itself. The protest was not a Coalition-sponsored event.