University of Wisconsin-Madison students threw a tantrum Tuesday over a new meal plan announced for freshmen next year, throwing trays as they chanted and blocked customers from Gordon Dining Hall.
— Abby Doeden (@abbsdoeden) February 14, 2018
“We’re here to get an education and we have people having to take out 2 to 3 jobs, 3 to 4 loans just to pay for meals, just to pay for housing and that’s not okay,” freshman Chelsea Hylton told WKOW.
Some students scrawled protest slogans like “I can’t eat!” on the food trays and pranced them around the dining hall, while others tossed the trays into a heap as they bickered with classmates who seemed to think the melee was sour grapes.
“The enemy is not in this building,” one student opposed to the protest shouted. “The enemy is not the employees who will have to clean up all these trays.”
Ironically, the collective fit followed just days after UW-Madison announced it will grant free tuition for incoming freshmen from Wisconsin families making $56,000 a year or less, according to Inside Higher Ed.
— Abby Doeden (@abbsdoeden) February 13, 2018
The protest, planned last week, was the students’ reaction to learning that incoming freshmen who live on campus will be required to purchase a meal plan next school year, with the minimal plan costing about $1,400, Channel 3000 reports.
UW-Madison senior Tyriek Mack told the news site he organized the protest with the intent of shutting down Gordon Dining Hall because he believes the meal plan is racist.
“For a public institution like University of Wisconsin-Madison to implement a policy that would further marginalize students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, it’s really atrocious and ridiculous,” he said.
Brendon Dybdahl, university housing’s director of marketing and communications, explained why it’s not exactly atrocious and ridiculous.
“Pretty much every university in the country has some sort of minimal meal plan, and so we’ve been the outlier in that,” he said.
Throughout the protest, students toted signs demanding their “rights” to education and food.
“Education and food are not just for those who can afford them,” one sign read. “They are rights.”
Rena Yehuda Newman, another protest organizer, told The Capital Times the meal plan also violates students’ religious beliefs.
“This policy is a tremendous, unfair burden on hundreds if not thousands of students and their families who are already overpaying for the costs of living here at UW Madison,” she said.
“This policy makes students with dietary restrictions pay for food they cannot eat, makes students with kosher or halal observances pay for food that goes against their religious code, and takes away student autonomy and agency over what, how, and where they eat,” said Newman. “The carelessness of this University Housing policy has not gone unnoticed. Students were not consulted in this decision whatsoever.”
Campus spokeswoman Meredith McGlone told the news site “All Big Ten and UW System schools have required meal plans for on-campus residents ranging from $2,480 to $6,200 ($3,255 to $6,200 in the Big Ten),” and students can apply their financial aid toward the cost.
She also addressed the dietary needs of Jewish and Muslim students.
“For students with special dietary needs, Dining offers halal options at all of its marketplaces as well as a selection of grab-and-go kosher items,” McGlone said. “In the rare occurrence that Dining is not able to meet the needs of an individual student, there will be a review process for exemption.”