CDS Swipe Drive Represents Effective Community Activism

 After many weeks of heated back-and-forth debate over the future of Campus Dining Services meal plans, student organizers have found an effective way to both make their voices heard and support existing community efforts. The “Spare Swipes: An Oberlin CDS Food Drive” initiative urged first-years and sophomores on the 300 meals-per-semester plan to use their spare swipes to purchase non-perishable items from Wilder DeCafé and donate them to Oberlin Community Services — a community organization dedicated to providing basic needs assistance to Lorain County residents. The drive, launched in response to the new meal plan options introduced April 1 by Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo, ran throughout this week. 

For the last two years, dissatisfaction with shrinking meal plan options has had a prominent position in campus discourse. Although the 300-meal plan has been augmented with more flexible options, getting to this point has been confusing and frustrating for students. Some say the new GoYeo plan — which allows unlimited access to the dining halls and is required for all first-years and sophomores beginning fall 2019 — will still lead to a waste of both food and money, as not all students will eat enough to warrant the pricey $8,476 plan. Students were further upset by administrative errors which allowed students to register for less costly meal plans that will no longer be offered next year (“Students Organize CDS Boycott,” The Oberlin Review, April 5, 2019).

After all this, students had reasonable concerns regarding the financial flexibility of meal plans as well as administrative miscommunication. However, this frustration was largely channeled into activism with low participation, including the recent CDS boycott which was to be followed by a protest in front of Raimondo’s office. The boycott itself did not stand to make much of a difference, as student meal swipes are already paid for, meaning that not using them would have no impact on Bon Appétit revenue. Furthermore, if folks had actually participated, the boycott would have resulted in enormous quantities of food waste and created concerns about accessibility for students who depend on CDS food for financial reasons. As for the protest itself, almost nobody showed up and no cohesive statement on student frustration was made.

However, unlike the one-day CDS boycott, the Spare Swipes initiative has so far been an innovative and effective success. Not only does the drive allow students to use all their swipes rather than letting some go to waste, but it is also outward-facing in an important way. OCS does important work in Oberlin that is sometimes invisible to students who don’t directly benefit from it — using the drive to support their work is an important statement of recognition and support, which this Editorial Board has previously encouraged students to make. Creating greater solidarity in Oberlin can only serve to mend town-gown relationships that have fractured in recent years.

Further, the drive is — at its core — true to the principles of food security used by College administrators to justify the meal plan changes. Raimondo’s email specifies that the dining changes represent the College’s concerns regarding national food insecurity and hunger among college students, reading, “This decision means that no one on campus must choose less than three meals a day for financial reasons.”

The emphasis on this line of reasoning has raised many eyebrows among the student body, as the meal plan decisions appear to be a pretty clear revenue generator at a time when the College is strapped for cash. There are certainly financial realities that must be addressed, but couching them within the justification of increasing food security feels, in some ways, misleading — particularly when need-based financial aid already covers meal plans for full-need students, meaning that those students would be at liberty to select whichever plan best suits their needs regardless.

The student drive, however, seems to be an effective and genuine effort towards addressing food security concerns — not just in the College but also in the wider Oberlin community, where 20–25 percent of residents live at or below the poverty line as of 2016. Students are eating what they need and donating what they don’t, effectively countering plans that compel students to pay for meals they do not use.

We must applaud students for an unconventional yet innovative form of activism which is both effectively articulating their concerns and creating a tangible and positive change in our community.