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Students protest the new dining plan next fall by eating food in Baker Dining yesterday evening that they had prepared themselves.
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Student opposition to the proposed House Dining Advisory Group continues this week. A major new petition launched on Wednesday evening has amassed over 1,298 signatures from undergraduates as of early Friday morning. On Thursday, students held an “eat-in” protest at Baker House to show that they could cook for themselves.

On Wednesday at 5 p.m., an online petition against the dining plan was launched at http://sayNO.mit.edu. This petition is the fourth major petition against dining this term, and the first one conducted online.

It gathered over 1,400 signatures from students, graduate students and others in less than 24 hours.

On Thursday, roughly 25 students, mostly from East Campus, brought their own food and prepared it in the Baker Dining Hall in a demonstration against the new dining plan. The students said they wanted to show that they didn’t need dining halls.

Online petition against dining is largest yet

The petition argues that the plan did not “adequately consider student opinion,” will “destroy the community and culture” of both dining and non-dining dorms, harm FSILGs and clubs, and “double the cost of food.”

Addressed to MIT President Susan J. Hockfield, Chancellor Philip L. Clay PhD ’78, Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo, housemasters, HDAG members, and faculty members, the petition demands “major revisions to the dining plan.”

“This petition takes a different approach in that it brings all the background about dining into one central location, and that the website creates a forum for dialogue and discussion” said Keone Hon ’11, who created the website with a group of 6–8 students.

“We’re targeting all of campus, which demonstrates that dining is truly a campus-wide issue that will have implications everywhere,” he said.

The petition makes three demands: That the plan become either non-compulsory or “significantly reduced in its level of mandatory cost”; that it be revised to avoid the “drastic effects on dorms, clubs and other parts of Institute life”; and that the student body be asked, “Do you approve of the final plan we have proposed?”

“We want to send a strong message to HDAG: they’re not going far enough in the things they’re willing to concede. Currently, the plan is portrayed as something set in stone, but we hope that after we obtain really strong support for our petition, that conclusion we have to be thrown away…My hope is that the administration and HDAG members take this petition as a sincere declaration from students across campus that significant revisions need to be made. I have full faith that because they are committed to serving students’ interests that they will listen and resolve the concerns articulated in the petition,” said Hon, who was formerly the president of the Association of Student Activities.

In a response to the petition, Dean for Student Life Christopher Columbo said, “We have heard very clearly that students are concerned about cost, about the level of commitment for existing House Dining residents, and about the impact on the system once the new meal plans are put into place. Within HDAG, we are taking a serious look at their ideas to find a way to minimize the stress on the house communities without delaying or stopping the implementation process.”

Michael E. Plasmeier ’13, Vice President of Baker Facilities and Services and RFP Committee member, said, “The contract hasn’t been signed yet, and it’s not done until it’s signed. The sooner we can work towards a solution, the better. We want to move forward to meet the needs of all students.”

So far, according to data (from Thursday night) students from every living group have signed the petition. The dorms with the most signatures as of 1 a.m. this morning are:

Baker143
Next House113
Simmons95
East Campus226
Burton-Connor116

Students who sign are asked to identify their year and residence, and are given the option to provide a comment if they choose.

Dining Protest at Baker

Thursday evening, a group of roughly 25 students met at Baker Dining to protest the proposed dining plan.

The premise of the protest, as explained in an e-mail sent out to participants by initiators Michael L. Pappas ’14 and Christopher W. Tam ’14, was that students would bring and prepare their own food to eat in the Dining Hall, sending the message to administrators that they are not “incapable of feeding themselves” and thus do not need the new dining plan.

Tam said, “It’s a way for people to do something about dining that’s more than signing a petition, and it can be fun at the same time.”

Carrying signs labelled “IHTFP (I Hate the Food Plan)” the protesters entered around 6 p.m. and were greeted at the door by Baker Housemaster, Course XVI professor Dava J. Newman Ph.D. ’92, and Senior Assistant Dean of Students for Residential Life Henry J. Humphreys, who invited them to sit down and discuss their concerns with the dining plan.

After a few minutes, the students and administrators settled into conversations at various tables. Newman said, “The important thing is to engage students and learn their opinions. It’s nice to see everyone eating together and talking to each other.”

Humphreys said, “I think students have a right to voice their concerns. The students were being effective in making their point, but they were still respectful of the people who live at Baker.

Almas Abdulla ’14, McCormick Senator, said, “I’ve been taking around a petition around McCormick, and from all the people I’ve talked to, there is an overwhelming opposition to the dining plan. Many people said they would strongly consider moving out, which is a problem because McCormick is the only all-female dorm, so if someone is living there for personal reasons and they can’t pay for dining, they’d still be forced to.”

Many of the students in attendance, however, were residents of non-dining dorms. Patrick A. Hulin ’14, a resident of East Campus said, “I’m here because it’s clear to me that students don’t support the meal plan. People from non-dining dorms need to stand up for people in the dining dorms. For example, all my friends in Next House are considering moving out if the plan is implemented.”

When asked about the small turnout, Pappas seemed unfazed, “It’s not what I expected, but I’m happy with the outcome. I think this was more productive than if we had, say, 130 people, because we were able to have a civil dialogue, rather than just demonstrating that there were things we weren’t happy about, something I think the administration is already keenly aware of. At our table, we talked about dorm culture and possible ways to remodel the dining plan to make it work for all people.”

Asked about the low proportion of people from dining halls in attendance, Pappas said that some dining hall students may not have been able to participate because it was more difficult for them to prepare their own meal for the protest without access to kitchens. “However, I think those who did come still represent the general opinions coming from all sorts of different students, despite the apparent imbalance,” he said in an e-mail later that evening.

Tam added, “It’s possible that people from other dining halls were just having dinner somewhere else. In the end, at least we did something.”