Approximately 100 UW-Madison students and community members gathered in Gordon Dining Hall Tuesday evening to share their outrage over the university’s meal plan for incoming freshmen.
Protesters read testimonies describing how the meal plan will negatively impact low-income students and those with dietary restrictions, as well as chanted slogans like “I can’t eat” before marching through the market area of the dining hall and eventually blocking the entrance to the market for about 15 minutes.
According to Rena Newman, a UW-Madison student who helped organize the event, the goal was to continue to raise awareness about the negative effects of the plan. They said the protest showed the university that students are still “outraged” about the meal plan and want it eliminated.
Newman said UW-Madison Dining’s lack of transparency with the plan was a major issue. They said students were not consulted about the plan and found out about it through a news article after the policy was already approved.
“The $1400 [minimum deposit] requires students to fork over money that they do not have and requires students with dietary and medical restrictions to pay for food they cannot eat,” Newman said. “[The plan] removes the agency and autonomy of all students to decide when and where and how they eat.”
Newman also read comments from a petition — which received 3,673 signatures — denouncing the meal plan as discriminatory. Commenters said the meal plan does not consider low-income students and those with religious dietary restrictions. One commenter said they would not be able to attend UW-Madison had they been a resident under the meal plan.
University officials stood by to monitor the protest. According to UW-Madison Division of Dining spokesperson Brendon Dybdahl, the university was aware of the protest for a few days.
While students have claimed university dining was not transparent about the plan, Dybdahl said the university had not communicated with current students because the plan only affects incoming students.
Students are reading speeches at the Gordon entrance, explaining how this plan would have impacted them if they were residents under the plan pic.twitter.com/OROslSR5xO— Lawrence Andrea (@LAndrea_21) February 14, 2018
“We weren’t doing a lot of outreach to current students because they will not be impacted by it,” he said.
Despite the vast number of people demonstrating against the meal plan, not everyone agreed with the protesters.
One dining supervisor, who asked to remain anonymous, called the protesters rude and disrespectful to the dining employees.
“The people who work here work very hard,” the employee said. “They are throwing these trays on the floor — I have to work here in half an hour, and I have to wash all these trays now.”
After chanting slogans like “this meal plan has got to go” and throwing dining hall trays on the floor, the protesters eventually picked up the trays and left Gordon.
Protesters are throwing dining trays and chanting “no justice, no peace, this meal plan can’t eat” pic.twitter.com/CHsH9cz7YO— Lawrence Andrea (@LAndrea_21) February 14, 2018
Tyriek Mack, a UW-Madison senior and protest participant, said this type of protest is necessary to show student outrage.
“Without showing student frustration, the university can paint a picture that shows everything being amicable when in actuality, it isn’t,” Mack said. “Students are going to suffer from this new policy.”
Dybdahl — who said university police were nearby if the protest got out of hand — said the protest was peaceful and that customers were still able to get food at the market during the protest.
“Any time a protest can go peacefully on this campus, that is a positive thing,” he said. “We want people to express their opinions on things.”
Mack — who claimed the meal plan would only add to student debt — called the protest a success, claiming the university now has to publicly respond to the protesters’ demand to eliminate the meal plan.
This protest is just one demonstration in what has been months of student backlash.
When the meal plan — which will require dorm residents to spend a minimum of $1,400 on dining effective next year — first came out, student organizations and community members were quick to denounce it as negative for low-income students.
After student petitions circulated and members of the Associated Students of Madison spoke out against the plan, housing leaders to revise the plan, which was still rejected by students.
A smaller group of protesters reconvened in the Humanities Building to discuss further future action.