SSMU will support campus food boycott

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In an effort to pressure the McGill administration to reopen the Architecture Café, the McGill Students’ Society Council voted to support a student boycott of McGill Food and Dining Services at its meeting on Thursday, despite the vocal opposition of several councillors.

The motion, brought to council by Arts Senator Tyler Lawson and Arts Representative Kallee Lins, represents the most direct attempt to engage students in SSMU’s efforts to convince administrators to reconsider McGill’s summertime decision to close the popular student-managed café.

Erin Hale, a former McGill Daily editor, first proposed the idea for a campus-wide boycott of Food and Dining Services shortly after the September 21 rally outside the Leacok Building, where of hundreds of students gathered in support of reopening the café. Hale started a Facebook event urging students to boycott all McGill Food Services, which had more than 3,000 members at press time.

Lawson and Lins proposed the motion after seeing the groundswell of student support for the boycott. According to Lawson, the motion commits SSMU to supporting the boycott until McGill releases the financial data showing that the café was losing money—a major point of contention for Architecture students, who have claimed that the café was in the black—and agree to discuss reopening the café. The motion exempts students with prepaid meal plans, however, as well as first-year students in residence.

“The point is to try and get some consultation on the issue,” Lawson said.

However, several councillors declined to support the motion on Thursday, with four dissenting and five abstaining, with the latter group including SSMU President Zach Newburgh. One of the most vocal councillors who opposed the motion was Lauren Hudak, a Science representative to SSMU and an occasional Tribune contributor.

“I felt that we could do something more constructive, more positive, in trying to get the administration to listen to the demands of students,” Hudak said.

Along with other councillors, Hudak argued that passing a motion supporting the boycott did not address students’ frustrations with the administration, which contracts out the management of food outlets on campus to Aramark, an outside company.

“I think by placing the pressure on McGill Food and Dining Services, we’re moving away from the original reasons students were upset that the Architecture Café closed,” she said.

Other student associations on campus have echoed Hudak’s concerns. The Management Undergraduate Society discussed passing a motion in support of the boycott at a meeting on September 26, but ultimately decided against it.

The MUS, said Eli Freedman, Management representative to SSMU, decided to not to take a stance in the fight over the Architecture Café, which few Management students patronized. In addition, the MUS feared damaging its relationship with Sinfully Asian, the popular eatery in the Bronfman Building.

“To be honest, I don’t know how many people in Management are that concerned and are participating in the boycott,” Freedman said, though he added he was personally supporting the boycott.

The Engineering Undergraduate Society also decided against endorsing the boycott at a meeting on September 29, instead leaving the decision of whether or not to boycott up to its members.

“We wanted the debate to stay centred on the lack of support for student initiatives, the lack of consultation with students,” said EUS President Daniel Keresteci.

Though the boycott will not affect the McGill administration directly, Newburgh said he hopes the indirect pressure on the university will convince administrators to reopen the café.

“Because this will affect Aramark’s sales,” he said, “which are unrelated to any kind of profit that would be received by the university, Aramark will then have some kind of incentive to approach the university and say, ‘Listen, it’s time to reconsider the closure of the Architecture Café.'”

SSMU is currently exploring several options for promoting the boycott, Newburgh said, including Facebook and the listserv emails. All six SSMU executives have been boycotting Food and Dining Services since the motion passed.

Along with representatives from other campus groups, including the EUS and the Architecture Students Association, Newburgh said SSMU has been planning additional events to protest the Architecture Café’s closure. A potluck outside the Macdonald-Harrington Building, which housed the café, is planned for the near future. Newburgh also intends to bring up the issue at the next senate meeting.

“I am confident that the university will hear us,” Newburgh added, “and that they will respond positively and constructively.”