During the second debate of the BUSU executive elections on Feb. 4 in the Guernsey Market, members of the Food Affordability for Students Today (FAST) group held a demonstration for affordable food.
“This was one of the most crucial events for our cause,” said Peter Henen, a member of FAST, in an interview with The Brock Press. “We knew that it was going to create controversy.”
While the Board of Directors candidates were holding their debate, specifically while Alyssa Berardocco was speaking, a commotion began at the bottom of the stairs leading into Market. What appeared to be two students yelling was in fact a staged argument between two FAST members, one who represented the students, and the other Sodexo, the contracted food service provider on campus. Other group members joined the scene in a flash-mob style and began to chant “food affordability” to the accompaniment of a djembe drum.
The demonstration was soon broken up and dissolved and the election debates continued as normal. The discussion surrounding the protest continued on social media, however.
“In order to bring about change, you need to start meaningful conversation,” said Henen. “After the [demonstrations] people started building a stronger opinion about FAST and the issue [of food affordability].”
The conversations on social media were both negative and positive in nature, as some online users agreed with the actions taken by FAST, while others disagreed.
“Shout out to the people protesting at market. The food is way too expensive as it is,” read one anonymous post on Yik Yak.
“Brock FAST Group – The ‘protest’ that you demonstrated today during the BUSU debate was absolutely pathetic. You did no justice for your cause, and it was a complete embarrassment. As much as we all want better food prices at Brock, there’s a better way of addressing this situation,” remarked another anonymous user on the “Brock Spotted” Facebook page.
Henen later went to BUSU and John Pappas, the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) and organizer of the debates, with a statement that he wished to read at the third elections debate held on Feb. 8.
“We wanted to present an apology. If it had said what [BUSU] wanted it to say, they would’ve let us say it,” claimed Henen.
The statement of the FAST group “apologized for the unintended chaos” and then went on to comment on some of the past international scandals that Sodexo had faced as well as the fact that other universities had broken their contract with the company. The statement finished by saying that the students’ union needed to step up and stand in solidarity with students “against Sodexo and against financial abuse.”
In a statement to The Brock Press, Pappas said that he declined to let them present the statement because it was not an actual apology and that the debate was not for that purpose.
“Students do have the right to express themselves, but not at an executive debate when we’re already pressed for time,” said Pappas.
In the meantime, the FAST group has started to circulate a petition for Brock’s Board of Trustees. Signees of the petition state that “I am a current, faculty, employee, or staff of Brock University. I believe the food services provided by Sodexo do not meet the needs of the students of Brock University. Herein I agree the food service provider Sodexo, should be exempted of their duties at Brock University.”
“We hope that the university administration takes this voice with sincere consideration,” said Henen.
“We prefer a peaceful method; we don’t want to create a negative image of Brock.”
The idea for the FAST group was initiated by Henen in his second year at Brock. There are no executives in the structure of the group; all ideas are presented and executed by the members as a whole. The main goal of the group’s campaigns is to remove Sodexo from the campus.
“It’s no longer just about food affordability, it’s about the ethics and how the system runs,” said Henen. “It can be changed, but that’s easily overlooked because the road to change is not a smooth one.”