Students Protest in Wake of A-House Petition

Melissa Harris, Editor-in-Chief

Rather than Sunday dinner, student diners at Afrikan Heritage House were met with protestors blocking the entrances.

According to members of Oberlin’s Black student union, ABUSUA, as well as other students, the protest was their response to Campus Dining Services’ failure to address their concerns outlined in a petition submitted to the College in late November.

A petition protesting both the quality and selection of food options served at Lord-Saunders Dining Hall began circulating on Wednesday, Nov. 18. Students called for CDS to adhere to more traditional meals, including making fried chicken a permanent feature on the Sunday night menu and providing more vegan and vegetarian options.

“The food quality at Afrikan Heritage House has decreased dramatically,” wrote Kendra Farrakhan, College senior and one of the authors of the petition, in an email to the Review. “Residents and other students have complained in the past through comment cards, etc., but no improvements were made. The protest on Sunday was a response to CDS and Bon Appétit’s dismissive response to our petition. The petition received almost 500 signatures, yet the administrative response shows that they don’t take us seriously.”

The petition also outlines a list of proposed meals, offering authentic food ideas, recommendations on how to properly prepare food and reduce the amount of cream used in dishes because, as stated in the petition, “Black American food doesn’t have much cream in it.”

While food quality and preparation were major concerns, students also called for better treatment of CDS staff, saying that they wanted “a guaranteed 40 hour work week, benefits for part-time workers, personal days, funding for job training and increased wages.”

The students also want to maintain the house’s orientation toward the community and promote greater benevolence and humanity for CDS workers.

“Bon Appétit is owned by Compass Group, which is a huge international organization that has received food violations in numerous countries,” Farrakhan wrote to the Review. “Until you’ve worked [ for] CDS, you don’t realize how rude, condescending and overbearing the managers are. And you don’t realize how much food gets thrown away. I would like to see Bon Appétit fired and replaced by something other than an international corporation. I would like to see the chefs have the respect and autonomy to cook the food they love.”

Director of Business Operations and Dining Services Michele Gross, one of the main administrators students want to open a dialogue with, responded to the incident this past Sunday.

“We see dining at Lord- Saunders as critically important and support Black students as they make their voices heard and concerns known,” Gross wrote in an email to the Review. “We began making initial changes over the past couple of weeks. We will be providing a detailed response including specific action steps and a precise timeline that will address each concern in order to assure students that we will make this program a great dining experience.”

Gross presented initial feedback to the Africana community at a meeting on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in Lord lounge. While Gross claims that CDS is working to meet the demands stated in the petition, many students are still concerned with the integrity and intention of Afrikan Heritage House’s space.

“We students are concerned about our safety,” said Gloria Lewis, College sophomore. “And so beyond that, it’s about having a safe space. So it’s not just the dining hall. It’s everything. It’s the posts on Yik Yak. It’s the micro-aggressions.”

Beyond the concerns of Afrikan Heritage House, Lewis said that she would like to see more oppression training held by faculty and staff on campus. She also expressed a wish for more Black faculty and administrators to help meet the students’ demands.