Updated: 10/29/19, 10:56 p.m. CST
Scott Young, News Editor
JSU student Keeley Tibbitts and other students have organized a protest to take place on the lawn of the Theron Montgomery Building (TMB) on Friday, November 1 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in response to the university’s decision to construct a $26 million dining facility and require commuters to pay $275 a semester for a meal plan.
Tibbitts said the protesters will rally at Mason Hall at 12:30 p.m. where the group will then march around Trustee Circle and then protest on the lawn of the TMB from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
“You can bring signs,” said Tibbitts. “Just make sure they don’t have curse words on them. Same with what you say and what you chant. We want them to listen us, so we can’t be dumb college students. We have to be better than that.”
Tibbitts announced via a video on the protest group on Monday, October 28 that their protest has been approved by the university. When asked, Tibbitts said that a university official agreed to sponsor their protest as a faculty advisor.
“If you are unhappy with how JSU has been using our money and their plans to make a dining hall and mandatory meal fee for commuters, join the group ‘REAL JSU Students Protest’,” said Tibbitts in a Facebook post. “We are organizing a peaceful event on campus to be heard.”
Tibbitts said she wants to bring more attention to the lack of student parking, building maintenance and the rising cost of attending JSU.
“People came to JSU because it was cheaper than Alabama or Auburn or anywhere else,” said Tibbitts. “Now that isn’t as true due to growing fees and growing tuition costs.”
On Tuesday, October 22, the Board of Trustees voted to approve a 63,000-square-foot dining facility set to be constructed between Forney Avenue and Trustee Circle, where a commuter parking lot currently sits.
The resolution passed by the trustees allows the vice president of finance and administration, Jim Brigham, to negotiate an agreement with Sodexo, a food services and facility management company headquartered in France.
The trustees were provided a proposed floor plan and a rendering of the dining hall alongside a proposed mandatory commuter meal plan that would cost $275 per semester for students who live off campus.
The university published a press release on Friday, October 25 detailing the proposal by Sodexo and said neither the location of the dining hall nor the $275 mandatory commuter meal plan have been finalized.
“Until a final contract is negotiated, with the help of Dr. King and Mr. Herrera, all terms are simply proposals,” said Brigham in the press release. “We will benchmark our food service plans with other Alabama universities and focus on getting affordable plans and value for all of our students.”
The release also details plans to increase dining options around campus including the creation of an Einstein’s Bagels and Boar’s Head Deli in addition to expanding Jazzman’s and transforming Momma Goldberg’s “into a WOW Cafe with soft seating, gaming and student-centric space.”
The release announced that the Student Government Association will host a town hall meeting on Wednesday, October 30 at 6 p.m. on the fifth floor of Meehan Hall to allow students to ask questions about the dining hall proposal.
Students in the protest group have voiced concerns about the university shifting attention to a new dining hall as opposed to projects like Mason Hall, the new facilities for the nursing and business schools and maintenance to existing buildings.
“The business school is not wheelchair accessible,” said an anonymous JSU business student through a Snapchat text posted in the group. “There is an elevator but it’s outdoors and essentially just a dangerous non-functioning shaft. No wheelchair bound individuals have any way to get to the second floor that I know of. The floor rises and dips. There are ruts and holes in the tile.”
Several students within the group have posted screenshots of their text conversations with Randall Jones, the chairman of the Board of Trustees. In those texts, Jones arranged to meet with students in the cafeteria to have lunch and address their concerns.
“It’s partly about getting the new contract they made cancelled, but it’s also about how we want the buildings we love and need for our education to finish being rebuilt,” said Tibbitts when asked why she’s organizing the protest. “This spring, it’ll be going on two years and Mason, the business building and the nurses building still aren’t fixed.”
Tibbitts added that she plans to get students together to send a letter to Congressman Mike Rogers of Alabama’s 3rd Congressional district.
“We’re getting music, nursing and business majors to state their grievances in a letter,” said Tibbitts.
A petition called ‘Fix the old buildings first before adding a new one’ was created by JSU student Hannah Robinson and has received over 1,600 signatures since its creation on Thursday, October 24 around 2:30 p.m.
The petition calls for the “creation of more parking space, and to fix the buildings that have long been destroyed BEFORE the new dining hall”.