President Leslie E. Wong’s refusal to sign a pouring rights agreement Nov. 19 drew critical interest from news organizations across the Bay Area, but also brought up the question of student power at SF State.
Wong stated in an email that he decided to decline the agreement after considering health studies and comments put forth by the campus community.
“I carefully reviewed the information that was sent to me by our students, faculty, staff and community, and I also conducted a great deal of my own research on the health implications of drinking sugary beverages,” Wong said. “After doing so, the evidence was pretty compelling that moving forward with a beverage agreement was not the right decision for our campus.”
The Real Food Challenge at SF State has been fighting against a pouring rights agreement since the end of last semester, according to Celia LoBuono Gonzalez, a member of the RFC and a communications and geography major at SF State. She said it was because of RFC that students became aware of the possibility of a pouring rights agreement, and the University made no attempts to reach out to the Associated Students, Inc. in regards to the pouring rights initiative.
Gonzalez said that with the mounting research the group conducted and the student support it accrued, the RFC drafted a resolution in collaboration with other student organizations to oppose pouring rights and asked the ASI Board of Directors to pass it, which she said the board did almost unanimously.
“Another important piece to our campaign was to reach out to allies in the community,” Gonzalez said. “We contacted our local Board of Supervisors and told them what was going on, and we worked with them to get the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to unanimously pass their own resolution supporting the students and opposing pouring rights at SFSU. This is an amazing student victory, and it’s important to remember that we have incredible power as students if we act collectively.”
The Golden Gate Xpress previously reported that SF State is the only California State University without a pouring rights agreement in place, but CSU Channel Islands also does not have a contract, according to Nancy Covarrubias Gill, director of communication and marketing at the university. Robert King, director of public affairs and communications at CSU Maritime Academy, also stated that the school does not have an agreement due to their enrollment size.
However, CSU Bakersfield, CSU East Bay, CSU Fresno, CSU Fullerton and CSU Sacramento all have a contract with PepsiCo Inc., and CSU Long Beach has a contract with Coca-Cola Co., according to representatives from each university. CSU Chico Director of Public Affairs Joe Wills stated that while the university itself does not have a contract, their Associated Students does have a beverage contract with Pepsi.
SF State’s rejection of the pouring rights agreement also came as good news to Liana Derus, co-president of SF State’s Environmentally Conscious Organization of Students, who said she is excited that Wong decided to put people over profit.
“I believe our culture and dedication to social justice on campus is responsible for delaying a contract like this,” Derus said. “This sets us apart, because it shows that students have the power to shape their campus and especially gives power to students to prevent or overturn pouring rights contracts.
Rich Schwanbeck, representative for the ASI Board of Directors and member of RFC, said this campaign created the chance to form a grass-roots effort on campus, but that it shouldn’t have had to happen that way.
“People in general have a lot of power, and all their power is their voice,” Schwanbeck said. “This experience showed students and everyone that they have a voice, and it can be exercised and should be safe to on a university campus like ours.”
Wong, who said he was very involved in minority student and civil rights issues on campus as an undergraduate in the ‘60s and ’70s, said he supports student voices as well as their desire for change.
“I always encourage students to own their own mind,” Wong said. “We have a long history on this campus of students speaking out on issues that are important to them. It is a big part of what makes SF State, SF State. I am proud of our students for engaging with this topic and making their voices heard.”
Derus said she believes the group’s success against the agreement is just the beginning of a more present student voice on campus.
“I hope that Dr. Wong understands from here on out that students will not allow for an administration that bypasses student input,” Derus said. “Students are the soul of this University’s community and refuse to be walked over by an administration that is willing to sell out to corporations that simply see us as consumers.”
As for the future, Wong sees addressing the availability of water as a necessity, and said he hopes to have water stations installed around the campus. According to SF State’s request for pouring rights proposals, they would have asked the beverage corporation for a one-time contribution of $2 million minimum and an annual payment of at least $125,000 throughout the contract term. Since Wong said no to this contract, he said he wants to work with students to find ways to provide funds for student programs, scholarships and athletics.
“I hope that students will suggest and offer creative ideas for generating these funds,” Wong said. “We have many needs, and with state support diminishing, we need to look at other sources to generate revenue to support our students and programs. The issue of student support didn’t go away with stopping pouring rights. We’ll need to look elsewhere to raise those dollars.”
An Bui, president of the RFC, said that while Wong’s announcement is a huge success for the University, the entire process showcased the school’s lack of student input.
“The times are changing, and we understand that the school has to look at more avenues for funding, but that’s all the more reason to involve students in these decisions,” Bui said. “After this campaign, it shows that students have the capacity to make responsible decisions for the campus.”