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Student hunger strike highlights insufficient dining

In his final days on campus, Walter Thilly `22J went on a hunger strike to protest Colby Dining Services.

On Sunday, Jan. 23, Thilly made his way to the Dana Dining Hall for dinner after a workout at the Athletic Center.

“I confirmed Dana was closing at 7, as it usually closes at 8,” he recounted. “But at 6:45 the doors were being shut to the dining hall.”

Thilly and other students who had hoped to enter the dining hall at the same time were confused.

“Fellow students started to get very upset, some of them even at the staff,” Thilly said. “I was upset that there was no communication with us and upset that Colby had allowed a situation in which staff workers were put to blame in the short term.”

After attempting to speak to President Greene in both his home and the Eustis building, Thilly went to Security and decided to take matters into his own hands.

“I asked [Security] if there was someone they could call to help the students who didn’t get food. They told me no,” Thilly said. “I was going to go on hunger strike so that this mishap would not be unheard of by the administration.”

Thilly explained that in addition to raising awareness of the issue, he also went on strike to stand “in solidarity with those who could not afford to buy dinner instead that night.”

Thilly alerted Greene and other members of the Colby administration of his plans. Word of the strike spread quickly through the student body, many of whom were supportive of his motives. Thilly cited social media, particularly Yik Yak, as a driving force in publicizing his protest.

Thilly was able to speak with administration the following morning and agreed to end his hunger strike upon confirmation of an open conversation with Dean of Students Barbara Moore and Director of Administration and Chief of Staff Stephanie Sylvester. This meeting was held on Jan. 26 over Zoom.

Sylvester explained that the Dana Dining Hall had reached capacity on the night of Jan. 23.

“We were closing because there were no seats left,” she said. “The goal was then to allow students to come through and have their meal once we did have those seats open up.”

“The team didn’t effectively communicate to the group that we’re going to be able to get everyone in to have a meal, and that’s something that we’re working on,” Sylvester continued. “I apologize, because I understand that people were left frustrated.”

“The dining services are here to serve you all,” Moore added. “This is your home. This is where you’re eating your meals. We don’t want any student to go hungry. And I very much so apologize that students felt that they were turned away and didn’t get dinner that evening. I do apologize and I’m sorry that that happened. We have to do better.”

Moore and Sylvester outlined the feedback programs currently in place and highlighted the dining survey as particularly helpful for implementing change. They also recognized the need for additional feedback channels.

“One thing that we’re going to be doing is implementing a flyer with a QR code so that you, as a student, if you’re having issues with a meal or if something isn’t right, or maybe something’s great and you want to see more of it, you can communicate that directly to our managers,” Sylvester said. “Administration will have insight to that, so that we can make sure we get different things implemented that are being requested.”

Students were then given the opportunity to raise additional dining concerns. They brought up limited hours of operation, poor wages for dining hall staff, lack of options that account for vegan and gluten-free diets, faults in the system in place to label such options, lack of healthy protein options, and raw or otherwise unsafe food.

Students also requested more transparency between the administration and students regarding the solutions to such issues and suggested additional Zoom meetings as a means of communicating progress.

“There’s a real need for information and communication and ongoing follow ups and updates,” Moore agreed. “I’ve heard that really loud and clear.”

Sylvester added that the changes will take time, but that they hope to put together a formalized plan responding to the concerns raised at the meeting and detailing program updates which will be presented to students.

~ Elsa Russell ‘22

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