Last Friday, in the middle of Campus Preview Weekend, students from the Campaign for Students (CFS) gathered in Lobby 7 to protest the Division of Student Life’s handling of dining reform. Students joined and left the protest intermittently, but the number of attendees at any point in time was around two dozen.
“You say you want student input, so why don’t you listen?” read a large banner that hung from the east balcony of the lobby.
Protestors were concerned that administrators were purposely excluding students from the decision-making process for changing dining at MIT. The protest seemed mostly composed of residents of East Campus and Random Hall, two dormitories without dining halls.
The CFS chose to protest during Campus Preview Weekend because that is when MIT is in the spotlight for prefrosh, said Jesse M. Ashcraft-Johnson ’11, a resident of Random Hall, who attended the protest.
Colombo sent an e-mail to MIT undergraduates on April 6 urging students to make their voice heard on dining. However, some students were disturbed by portions of the e-mail.
Colombo wrote that the final dining plan would be announced in mid-May, which coincides with finals period. Some protestors believe that the announcement time was deliberately chosen to prevent students from organizing a strong response to the plan while they are busy with studying for exams.
In the same e-mail, Colombo wrote: “As important, members of the Class of 2012 and 2013 — the two classes currently at MIT that will be directly affected by changes to House Dining — will have a year to consider whether to move to another residence based upon their dining preference.” Some students were disturbed by his comment, interpreting that Colombo is encouraging students to pick housing because of amenities such as dining plan and financial incentives instead of dorm culture.”
“Some people might see this $800-a-year as a disincentive to live in McCormick or some other non-dining dorm and they might be incentivized to live in dorms like East Campus just because it is cheaper,” said Fangfei Shen ’11, the current vice-president and former dining chair of East Campus (also a Tech columnist).
Shen said that she did not want the administration to make dining at MIT similar to dining at peer institutions such as Harvard or Yale. “It just doesn’t work for MIT because we are not like other universities” she said.
In an e-mail to The Tech, Dean Colombo wrote that he thought “the protest on Friday was a very reasonable and respectful display of the participants concerns about dining and other issues.” He wrote that MIT has had to make hard choices regarding dining and other issues in order to balance its budget. “It doesn’t get much more personal for students than where they live and what they eat,” wrote Colombo.
Colombo wrote in his e-mail, “If students who use the dining halls want their opinions to be heard during this month-long process, I encourage them to attend a forum, to submit an idea or comment to the Idea Bank, and to talk to their Housemasters and House leadership. We need their input if we’re going to make House Dining better.”
Protestors say that, thought they believe that Colombo encourages feedback, it seems that the administration is not listening to students.
“The same issue popped up last year,” said Tiffany K. Cheng ’12, a resident of East Campus who was present at the protest. “We had sit ins with the posters on the wall about how we felt about dining. In the time period between then and now there really hasn’t been much improvement even though our student representatives have been really vocal in what our communities want.”
“I know at least four people who nominated Colombo for the Big Screw [competition]” said Ashcraft-Johnson. Colombo did not accept his nominations.
The CFS is an organization whose mission is to revive student participation and to emphasize the importance of student life at MIT. It was founded in 2008. According to Vinayak V. Ranade G, a former resident of East Campus (also a Tech reporter), the CFS is designed to be a completely flat and leaderless organization because it’s supposed to give every student equal weight.
An analysis of CFS mailing list membership showed that, of the members who had dormitory information listed, the top three most represented dorms are East Campus (39 percent), Random Hall (8 percent) and Burton Conner (6 percent). Students from the four dorms with dining halls compose a combined 3 percent of CFS membership.