The first day of every semester is usually a time of optimism. Students have come back from a summer break filled with travel, part-time jobs, new hairstyles or a keener sense of fashion, and a sense of determination. Like most students, those at Kangnam University hope this semester will be better than the last one.
For those blissfully ignorant of a current crisis at the university, food trucks like the ones parked in front of Shalom Hall are seen as a nice touch — a fun way to welcome back students with a festive atmosphere. Then one notices the bookstore and cafeteria in Insa Hall are closed. The situation is the same for the cafeteria and coffee shop in Shalom Hall. In fact, all of the dining establishments on campus are closed.
“I was so surprised,” says 3rd-year student Jennifer Hee Kyung Kim. “Why are the cafeterias gone now? Where are the students going to eat?”
It’s then one realizes why the food trucks are there, and they begin to seem a little less fun.
Students at Kangnam University have long complained about the high prices and comparatively low quality of the food at its cafeterias. For ten years a single company KNJH operated all of the dining establishments, even the parking service, on campus with no competition and little incentive to improve.
KNJH’s monopoly was suppose to have come to an end, however, as their contract with Kangnam University expired in July. Over the summer, the university’s administration, professors, and student council, sat though proposals from several providers before enthusiastically choosing to go with Areum. Those who had helped make this decision looked forward to a better life on campus.
KNJH, however, has said that, without a large payout from Areum, they will not vacate the premises. Instead the lights have been turned off, and the doors to the cafeterias, coffee shops, convenience stores, and bookstore remain locked in a battle of attrition.
PACE, Kangnam University’s 31st student council is not taking these tactics lying down. In what has been described as a “boycott”, PACE has organize temporary relief for students, starting with the food trucks. A makeshift shop has also been set up on the 1st floor of Shalom Hall selling snacks, school supplies, and Academic English textbooks at a lower price than the original bookstore offered. In addition, posters highly critical of KNJH’s squatting appear in buildings all over campus while members of PACE wear placards to raise awareness of the campaign. Their popular Facebook page (search “knupace”), which posts regular updates, is also proving to be a useful outlet for student voices.
PACE’s president Seong Bae Kim says he hopes these efforts will make companies, especially ones like KNJH, take notice and realize that students can wait them out and eventually take back control of their school.
“It’s tiring and hard,” Kim says, “but we can do it.”