SDS leads protest for higher student worker wages, improved dining options

The Students for a Democratic Society marched from Taylor Hall to the K to protest the food service conditions for students dining and working on campus on Tuesday, October 5.

Alton Northup Reporter Sophia Lucente Reporter, Photographer

Kent State students and employees continued to air their grievances surrounding dining services on Tuesday, this time in the form of a protest organized by Students for a Democratic Society. 

The protest began at noon behind Taylor Hall, with attendees marching to Risman Plaza to send a message about what they believe are unacceptable dining and wage conditions. The protesters gathered outside the student center where they held signs with slogans such as “Pay workers a living wage,” “Students demand better food and pay” to “Flashes take care of Flashes?” and “Feed us Todd.” Some attendees also gave speeches sharing their experiences with dining on campus. 

Christian Heller, a student worker and freshman political science major who attended the march, claimed to not have been paid by the university for the first five weeks of his work. A major focus of the march was raising the student worker minimum wage to $15, something Heller said he supports.

The current minimum wage for an entry level food service worker at Kent is $8.80, according to the university website. That is the same as the state minimum wage in Ohio.

The march was the most visible action taken so far by SDS this semester. The group recently launched its dining campaign, which calls for more gluten free and vegan options, improvement in food quality and an increase in student worker wages. 

“Students are being served raw food, you know; students aren’t paid for five weeks in the beginning of the semester, which is just incredibly insane that they think they can get away with it,” said Colt Hutchison, SDS president, “On top of that, they’ve tried to hide the issue.” 

The frustration of students was on full display during the protest; Sehar Shaikh, action planning chair for SDS, at one point looked up to the library, which houses the office of university president Todd Diacon, shouting, “Todd, can you hear us?”  

Taylor Linderman, a sophomore fashion design major who struggles with an eating disorder, spoke about how dining on campus has affected her mental health, stating the situation has damaged her relationship with food and made it worse. 

Eric Mansifled, assistant vice president of content strategy and communications, did respond, saying, “Kent State upholds the right to free speech and values respectful dialogue from all points of view. Consistent with our core values, we encourage open dialogue, freedom of expression and respectful discourse in an inclusive environment.” 

“We welcome feedback to improve our dining operations, and we are committed to providing a high-quality dining experience for our students. This includes the formation of Flash Foodies, a group of about 25 students who will meet with university culinary services on a regular basis to discuss ways to improve all facets of the dining experience.”

“Gluten-friendly and vegetarian options are available for dine-in at both Eastway and the Design Innovation (DI) Hub Dining, and for grab-and-go at Eastway Market and Rosie’s. Students in need of gluten-free options may contact Student Accessibility Services to make accommodations.”

“University culinary services student employees and student supervisors have received pay increases this semester. We remain committed to providing employment opportunities for our students and to regularly evaluating wages based on employment market conditions.”

Alton is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected].