Students for a Democratic Society, Black United Students and five other groups created a list of demands they want to see in place on Kent State’s campus and presented them to President Todd Diacon Tuesday morning.
The group listed four demands for the university to enact: return May 4 to the students, remove Aramark from campus, give contracts and living wages for student workers and protect students’ health and safety.
Colt Hutchinson, president of SDS, said before the event they are there today because of a “series of burning issues here at the university, which just are not being met by administration.”
The coalition of student groups was also partially organized by Young Democratic Socialists of America. Shelby Pratt, vice president for YDSA, said the group advocated a grassroots student movement on campus would push for transparency.
“We are here on campus," Pratt said. "[Diacon] can’t ignore us, he can’t brush us under the rug and he can’t turn us away. We are here, we are tuition-paying students and we have every right to step up and demand, advocate for our rights of students,” Pratt said.
The new May 4 Task Force only includes two students on the committee. The university announced Monday afternoon the guest speakers for the 50th anniversary of May 4, including actress and activist Jane Fonda. Hutchinson said students should have more of a say and believes the university could have picked a more relevant speaker.
“They recently released these plans, which, you know, they say that there’s this big unity between students and the university, but there isn’t. They have not involved any student activist organizations in this. There’s only two students on their committee. It’s a closed committee. You can’t go and attend. We think that that needs to be handed back to the students,” Hutichinson said.
In the letter addressed to Diacon, Lamar Hylton, the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and other senior members of the university’s administration, the students wrote, “We demand that the university establish a genuine working relationship with the student body regarding all commemoration planning and other May 4 related programming. […] We also demand that ‘education initiatives’ are developed and implemented in a timely manner which cover the history of student activism, the anti-war movement and government surveillance at Kent State University.”
The presence of Aramark on campus was another reason students demanded action. Kent State’s food provider is linked to public and private prisons and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In the letter, the students want to remove Aramark because it “has been the subject of a litany of complaints, fines and even lawsuits regarding their numerous labor and human rights violations.”
Patrick Ferguson, president of BUS and one of the leaders of the demonstration, said the university should switch to an internal dining service system so there is no longer a third-party system.
The “Our Demands” participants handed out calls for, “An in-house, self-operated dining services instead of outsourcing them to a third-party company, and create a fully transparent self-operated dining services committee to oversee the necessary changes to prepare the university to transition from contracted dining services.”
In addition to the complaints about Aramark, Victor Barratt-McCartney said he was aware of the problems with the food provider when he was working in dining facilities during the 2017-2018 school year.
As a student-worker, Barratt-McCartney was involved with food prep and cashier duties. He is currently a member of United Students Against Sweatshops and said the resources Aramark provided were not up to a certain standard.
“The training I feel is really lax and small for student workers here. […] While I was working there […] we had issues where there wasn’t filled medical kits in the dining hall locations. There weren’t like prominent posters that had anything about sexual assault reporting or worker abuse reporting,” Barratt-McCartney said.
Currently, student workers are paid Ohio minimum wage for on-campus work. Students who work in dining services make $8.70/hour and are limited to working 28 hours a week, and 21 hours for international students. Hutchinson said the university should pay its workers a living wage of $15/hour.
“It’s just unfair. It’s insane to think that students can combat the rising tuition, just the rising, rising life expenditures working a minimum wage salary […] at $8.55 an hour,” Hutchinson said.
The last issue the participants raised is students’ health and safety. On the flyer, the students raised a general concern of safety for Kent State students in regards to a growing presence of white nationalism, more resources for the on-campus University Psychological Services, a training for first-year students on competency, inclusivity and bias and other issues.
“As long as President Todd Diacon and the administration continue to choose to neglect their responsibility for student safety, students on Kent State’s campus are subjected to an unsafe and hostile environment that we will not accept,” the letter said.
Pratt was a co-author of the letter. She said she wants more transparency with the current university administration and for Diacon to create a student worker union.
“We are here on campus. [Diacon] can’t ignore us, he can’t brush us under the rug and he can’t turn us away. We are here, we are tuition-paying students and we have every right to step up and demand, advocate for our rights of students,” Pratt said.
Eric Mansfield, executive director of university media relations, said on behalf of Diacon, “The president’s office has received [the letter], but he is currently out of town.”
Ferguson said he hopes to have these demands answered by the end of this year. He said it is feasible to act on these issues by the end of spring 2020.
“These are institutionalized problems that can be easily changed through policy change and it takes that communication and those action items, but it really takes the communication with the university,” Ferguson said before the event.
The seven groups led by Ferguson and Hutchinson walked from the Student Center to the second floor of the library where Diacon’s office is located. The president of the university was in a meeting and was unable to meet with the students. Instead Interim Dean of Students Taléa Drummer-Ferrell received a copy of the letter and said she would pass it along to Diacon.
Ferguson said he had no concerns about handing the letter to Drummer instead of the the president.
"I personally thought it went really well," he said. "We had student representation in Dr. Drummer, and she will relay that information to the president. I can trust that."
Hutchinson, Fergusson and Pratt each addressed the group after the demonstration, all emphasized the need to keep up participation.
"I think just [Drummer] being there demonstrates that they realize this is a pressing matter," Hutchinson said.
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