JSU protest generates low turnout

Students protest on the lawn of the Theron Montgomery Building as traffic passes by on Pelham Road. (Scott Young/The Chanticleer)Students protest on the lawn of the Theron Montgomery Building as traffic passes by on Pelham Road. (Scott Young/The Chanticleer)

Scott Young, News Editor

The protest of the proposed Jacksonville State University dining hall and $275 mandatory commuter meal plan took place in front of the Theron Montgomery Building (TMB) on Friday, November 1 after a short march around Trustee Circle.

Of the 500 members of the ‘Real JSU Students Protest’ group, only about 15 students attended the protest. The march around Trustee Circle began at 12:50 p.m shortly after students rallied at Mason Hall.

The protesters chanted “degrees, no fees” as they made their way around the circle, carrying signs that say “keep your hands out of pockets” and one defining the word extortion. The march ended on the lawn of the TMB at around 1 p.m.

Keeley Tibbitts, the protest organizer, directed the group at 1:30 p.m. to walk to the front of the Jack Hopper Dining Hall to gather more students to join the protest. Shortly thereafter, the protesters walked back to the TMB and the protest ended at about 2:30 p.m.

On Tuesday, October 22, the Board of Trustees approved a resolution to authorize Jim Brigham, the university’s vice president of finance and administration, to execute a contract with Sodexo. Attached to the resolution is a list of four proposed contracts from Sodexo for the university, with two of them requiring a $275 per semester “commuter student flex plan”.

“It wasn’t really made public before voting,” said one protester in reference to the resolution. “There’s mold and pests. We don’t have a music building. We don’t have a medical center. There’s a lot of stuff that needs more focus than a dining hall.”

Many students who attended the protest expressed similar concerns with the condition of existing campus buildings and projects that have not been completed, such as Mason Hall repairs or reconstruction the School of Business and Industry complex.

Jordan Chandler, a junior majoring in music education, said she attended the protest to bring awareness to Mason Hall, the home of the Music Department which was severely damaged during the March 19, 2018 tornado.

“If I’m right, the year of 2017 was the last freshman year of people who were able to experience being in that building,” said Chandler. “It’s two years later and there are two sets of freshman years who think that having our classes in like three different places is normal.”

Brigham stated in an SGA-sponsored town hall that he agrees several buildings on campus should be updated, but that the cafeteria is not “dependant on any other building projects that are going on.”

Alex Huselton, a freshman student who attended the protest, said that he’s opposed to the proposed $275 commuter fee as a commuter himself.

“I still live with my parents,” said Huselton. “Financial aid has taken its toll to where I only have one required textbook for this, and being November, that’s pretty bad. So, to add another fee on top of that? No way.”

Additionally, Brigham noted at the town hall that the final contract with Sodexo has not been negotiated, stating that the mandatory $275 commuter fee and dining hall are not set in stone.

“What was reported in the paper and what you heard that was approved at the Board of Trustees meeting was simply a proposal from Sodexo,” said Brigham. “The issue is that I think we’ve got a little ahead of ourselves because we haven’t even sat down and started the negotiation process yet. If you read in the paper that the $275 is a mandatory done deal, then that’s incorrect.”

Though the university has stated the details of the contract have not been finalized, the Board of Trustees Management Committee and the university Cabinet have both recommended the trustees adopt a Sodexo proposal that includes a $275 mandatory commuter meal plan.

After the protest ended, Tibbitts expressed dissatisfaction with the turnout of the event.

“I’m kind of disappointed that more people didn’t come out, but I’m so thankful for the ones that did,” said Tibbitts. ”I’m proud of students who want their voices to be heard.”

When asked about what she believes prompted the low turnout, she said, “Maybe lack of information. Could be the town hall meeting. Also, there are people who want change but don’t want to show up to make the change happen.”

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