COLA organizers occupied UC Santa Barbara’s Ortega Dining Commons from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. today, offering students a swipe-free lunch meal as an extension of their “peaceful direct action” protest against the university.
Organizers blocked Ortega’s front desk this morning on the eighth day of the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) wildcat strike, following organizing tactics used by COLA organizers at other UCs. Protesters who stood in Ortega’s foyer ushered students past the swipe station, encouraging them to eat for free and take food to go.
Organizers chanted “all smiles, no swipes” and offered students plastic cups, plates and utensils to reduce the workload of Ortega employees; they also handed out flyers and walked from table to table to talk to dining students.
The dining hall occupation was an expression of solidarity with UCSB undergraduate students, 44% of whom experience food insecurity, a COLA representative who declined to give their name said.
“We believe food is a right, and [that] no student should experience food insecurity — graduate or undergraduate,” the representative said. “This is how we demonstrate our movement is just as committed to [addressing food insecurity] as we are to [a] cost-of-living adjustment.”
While UCSB administrators and security personnel showed up to the dining commons during the takeover, they did not remove any COLA strikers and declined to comment on the ongoing situation. However, personnel managers were adamant that students follow dining hall protocol and not remove food from Ortega, leading to a brief confrontation with activists and students leaving with to-go plates.
However, as lines for food got longer and began to stretch around the building, organizers continued to encourage students to take food to go.
The decision to occupy Ortega was made to show how the UC “functions as a business rather than a school,” according to the COLA press release.
“By liberating this dining commons, we draw attention to how food insecurity functions daily on our campus, keeping us from being the students, teachers, and mentors we want to be. While graduate students are currently on a wildcat strike, this action demonstrates that our movement is not only dedicated to achieving fair pay but also to changing the priorities of the public university system to better fit the needs of all students,” the statement continued.
Most students who entered the building seemed to support the graduate students’ actions. One student, Kayla Katsuda, a fourth-year economics and accounting major, noted that she came for the free lunch.
“One of my friends told me about what was going on, and I came because I don’t have a meal plan,” Katsuda said.
One UCSB student and Ortega Dining Commons employee explained to the Nexus that he “didn’t know what was going on” at first.
“They seemed to be letting all people in, and the food is overpriced, so I would agree with that. You could easily go to Isla Vista and get a better meal … so I agree [with the strikes]. The food is very expensive,” he said.
UCSB did not respond to requests for comment regarding the Monday occupation.
As lunchtime attendees exited Ortega, organizers advertised the ongoing strikes and spoke about how undergraduates can help with the COLA movement.
“We’re on the picket line outside of Storke Tower from 8 to 5 every day,” one organizer told a student leaving with a to-go plate. “Hope to see you there!”
Megan Ramsey contributed reporting.