While premium coffee connoisseurs may be relishing the addition of Starbucks Coffee products to the new Integrated Science Café, some students are concerned with what their presence could mean for student cooperatives and businesses.
University of Massachusetts sophomore Laura Pinkerton, a co-manager at People’s Market, located in the Student Union, began an online petition via Change.org asking the University to reconsider its decision to sell Starbucks goods on campus.
The petition is titled “University of Massachusetts Amherst: Stop the Starbucks on campus.”
“Although these venues are technically not corporate Starbucks, but owned by the University, they are still aligned with a larger corporation,” the petition reads. “Sign this petition to stop the expanding of an already large corporation and support local and student businesses and the entire UMass community.”
“I’m not against Starbucks necessarily, but I’m against UMass supporting it,” Pinkerton said.
“We’re not fighting against Starbucks, we’re fighting for our community,” said junior Lynn Tran, also a co-manager at People’s Market. “The most common misconception is that we hate Starbucks, but really we just want to do what’s best for the community.”
UMass Dining Services’ Assistant Retail Dining Manager Van Sullivan said the University is “not affiliated with Starbucks” and merely buys and sells Starbucks products at the ISB Cafe. UMass, he said, has a “fair” agreement with Starbucks as opposed to a financial contract.
“There was no plot to put Starbucks all over campus,” Sullivan said. “People wanted Starbucks coffee, we found a good way to do that and stay out of the Starbucks franchise conversation.”
Sullivan said that though there is “no long term plan to add” more on-campus venues featuring Starbucks products, “obviously, if it’s successful it could potentially grow.”
There was a “pretty loud demand” for Starbucks products on campus, according to Sullivan. Dining Services gauges such demand through student interactions, such as surveys, in which there was a “pretty consistent theme” regarding student interest in Starbucks on campus, he said.
Tran says that UMass supporting Starbucks is a “slap in the face.” By supporting Starbucks, she said, student businesses are being ignored.
“UMass has this awesome thing, the Center for Student Business, this awesome program that gets students out in a unique way,” said Daniel Fennell, a co-manager at Greeno Sub Shop and member of the Board of Student Businesses. “You get to learn how to run a business inside and outside, and it’s a great educational opportunity. I’d like to see that expand rather than see new space used to promote corporate coffee that serves to benefit the University financially.”
Sophomore Joanna Zhu, a co-manager at People’s Market and member of the Student Labor Action Project, said that “corporatizing” does not send the right message to students and to the public about how to fund education. Starbucks being given a home on campus perpetuates the problem, she said.
Sullivan said he thinks “a lot of times, students perceive the administration as guilty,” regarding University business practices.
“I just think it’s disrespectful, because we live in such a special community in the Valley where local businesses are prized,” Pinkerton said. “People are supported for their local businesses. We live in an area where there’s agriculture all around us.”
“I feel like we should celebrate what we have,” she added.
Pinkerton said that at a cooperative, everyone is a co-manager and everyone has an equal say in the business, much unlike the hierarchy of most corporate businesses.
“Everyone is just as valuable as a member as anyone else,” she said. “We all run it together, and we’re all equal.”
The Change.org petition currently has a little more than 630 signatures, with a goal of 1,000 signatures needed to complete the petition. Pinkerton said the petition’s goal is not to collect a certain number of signatures, however, but to raise awareness about the movement on campus.
“I’d like to potentially sit down with administrators and have my voice heard and other student businesses’ voices heard,” she said. “People don’t even have to be involved in student businesses, but just to have some kind of rally (around this issue).”
Plans past the petition are uncertain because potential action is contingent on its results, according to Bayley Blaisdell, a co-manager at Greeno Sub Shop. Blaisdell is also a member of a sub-committee on the Board of Student Businesses focusing on Starbucks’ presence at UMass and the problems associated with it.
“One of the really important things about … the whole pro-student business idea is to get people to understand how cool student business is and how great it would be for other student businesses to form,” Blaisdell said.
She added that UMass does not allow student businesses such as the People’s Market to accept meal exchange, more commonly known as Your Campus Meal Plan (YCMP) swipes, despite lobbying for a long time.
The UMass Dining website states that meal exchanges can be used at any of their retail operations with a value of $9.50. Students may use YCMP swipes at the ISB Cafe, which falls under this umbrella of “retail operations,” for Starbucks products.
“As far as we can tell … Starbucks doesn’t provide meals any more than People’s Market,” Blaisdell said.
Sullivan encouraged those with concerns to address them with his office, saying, “If someone’s concerned about it, then I’d love to hear about it,” and adding that he is “99 percent sure” that he “would have the same concerns.”
“If I’m shutting one venue down to open another, then that’s not helping anybody,” Sullivan added. “We’re not trying to create the evil empire and do crazy stuff.”
Chelsie Field contributed to this report.
Patrick Hoff can be reached at [email protected]