When faculty, staff and students at the Graduate Center (GC) issued a statement of “no confidence” in the GC’s top leadership in the fall, they listed many problems. One of those problems was a lack of food service at the Midtown Manhattan campus.
The no-confidence statement cited numerous examples that have caused “widespread demoralization” and hindered community building. “The lack of adequate food services aside from vending machines has furthered a sense of detachment, alienation and anomie,” the no-confidence letter said.
THE PEOPLE’S PANTRY
Thanks to faculty, staff and student agitation this spring through setting up a People’s Pantry at the GC, the administration has listened and will take action to bring food options to campus.
“This semester, the People’s Pantry has heightened awareness of the need to secure a consistent supply of quality, nutritious food that will support community needs,” GC President Robin Garrell said in a March 28 email to the campus community. “We also recognize that the GC must comply with city health and safety regulations. We have therefore consulted with the Food Bank for NYC to assist the GC in setting up and supplying an on-site pantry that is sustainable and safe.”
She added, “The Graduate Center is partnering with John Jay College on a joint food services contract. We expect to issue a request for proposals by May 1, with the goal of restarting on-campus food services in Café 365 and the Dining Commons, as well as catering services, by Fall 2023. A forthcoming message will say more about the campus consultation process and timeline.”
Giacomo Bianchino, a PhD candidate in comparative literature at the GC and a PSC delegate, said that GC activists created the People’s Pantry in February. It started with a few tables, offering things like food, sanitary goods and books to anyone who needed them. “One of the groups that used it the most was the facilities staff,” he said.
The PSC GC chapter blog hailed this news as a major organizing victory.
“In just two months, we, the GC Community, have forced the administration to do something they repeatedly said was ‘impossible.’ We did this through direct action, solidarity and a huge public showing of mutual aid,” the blog post said. “We should relish the scale and speed of such an achievement. But we must be clear-eyed about the next steps. Although they are thanking and congratulating one another already, our administration may (probably will) drag their feet on this; it’s as much an attempt to shut us up as to actually fix the problems.”
The chapter said that it will continue to monitor the situation as it develops.
“We want a direct say in how the food services are developed and how the pantry is run,” the blog post said. “We want to make sure that these services are handled with the principles of inclusion, accessibility, nutrition and labor justice.”
For Bianchino, Garrell’s letter marked a victory for grassroots organizing.
“It’s one of the clearest examples of direct action getting direct results,” he said.
Published: April 26, 2023