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Davis, California

Monday, September 20, 2021

The Pantry receives complaints over lack of diversity

During a Sept. 27 ASUCD Senate meeting, Romana Norton, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) counselor who was involved in the creation The Pantry, expressed concerns over the unit’s recent underutilization. These comments stemmed from complaints from students claiming that The Pantry’s staff and interns do not consist of people who represent enough minority groups on campus.

“People want to get things from people they know,” Norton said during the meeting.
The senators agreed that The Pantry is being underused and agreed to discuss the issue further outside the meeting.

Founded two years ago, The Pantry is an on-campus organization run by students, aiming at providing food for UC Davis students who are struggling financially.

Norton said that she thinks The Pantry goes through misuse.

Some students who consult with Norton revealed that they feel uncomfortable and reluctant to get food from people of different ethnic groups than them. Norton also said that students who may not necessarily need The Pantry are using it more than students who need it.

“It can be a problem when you think you are getting food from people who don’t understand you,” Norton said.

For the purpose of protection, Norton declined to reveal the name of the students who originally expressed unease in using The Pantry.

The Pantry’s current director and junior cultural anthropology major Quincy Kayton said that they hire staff and interns through ASUCD Job Link.

“Each staff member, intern and volunteer in The Pantry represents a diverse background and range of experiences that are unique to them, just as the student body represents an individual array of experiences and concerns,” Kayton said in an email interview.

Rosa Gonzalez, a fourth-year human development major, is currently working at The Pantry and said she thinks that the unit does have diversity in the working group and that any people who would be interested in volunteering are always welcome.

Norton said that because hiring for The Pantry was set up by ASUCD through Aggie Job Link, it is on a first-come, first-served basis.

According to Norton, students who are in better financial conditions working at The Pantry may deter students who need the food the most.

Quincy disagreed with this statement over an email interview and said that this claim is unfounded.

“It is impossible to judge the financial stability of a student simply by looking at them,” she said.

Many students who are most often using The Pantry do not share this worry, either.

“People there are nice. I try to come here like three times a week. It saves money and time,” said a fourth-year who has been using The Pantry since it was founded.

Norton and Kayton are meeting to discuss the complaints. No consensus has been reached at this point.

The Pantry is located on campus in 21 Lower Freeborn and is open Monday through Friday from 9 to 11 a.m. and Monday through Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m. Students must present a valid UC Davis student ID Card.

MENGSHI SHAO can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Fitting that all of the comments disparaging and attacking the concerns of Mrs.Norton as being nothing more than ‘whining’ or worse ‘reverse racism’ (which is a nonsensical concept by the way) more than likely come from the run-of-the-mill, typical Davisite. This campus is a White campus, nothing wrong with that (at least on the face of it), before you all take up your rhetorical arms and call me a reverse racist–the problem arises when this majority strikes down any sort of concern or misgiving that others might have. Have any of y’all transgressed your ‘whiteness’ as of late? Do you know what it might feel like for a person of color to have to firstly, confront the fact that unlike the rest of the student body, she doesn’t just have to worry about studying but about procuring food. In Davis of all places. So we’re past that hump–now you head into a place that is intimidating from the get go, it’s shame that seeking help is shameful, but it’s a reality. And to top it all off your shame is compounded by feelings of alienation from the people who are in good faith and with their hearts in the right places serving you. This is a real issue that needs to be sorted out and not shot down with ludicrous claims of ‘oh well they’re lucky they get the food, they best stop their whining, the ingrates!’
    You’re better than this Davis.

    • Eros,

      I’m glad you’re concerned for the people approaching the Pantry, really I am. But these comments by Ms. Norton are, in fact, unfounded. The Pantry has never had negative media in its existence until this article. All things were seemingly running smoothly for them until this random outbreak from Ms. Norton surfaced.

      Maybe it is true. Perhaps because the Pantry has “white” people working for it (which is ironic because the photo with this article is of two permanent Pantry staff that are both “ethnically diverse”), it is uncomfortable for the students. That cannot be a problem with the Pantry, that is a problem the student needs to figure out. Why is it that that student cannot approach kind, friendly people who are giving him/her rations to make sure they can eat that day? Is it just because of the color of their skin? That isn’t the Pantry’s fault.

      And once again, I ask you, what should the Pantry do about these claims? Are they supposed to purposefully hire people who look more “approachable” by means of their ethnicity?

      What bothers me about this article is it shines a negative light on the Pantry with no solution. This is not the fault of the Pantry…there is no means for the Pantry to fix such a problem without being…well…racist.

      These students should be advised to visit the cross-cultural center or another campus organization such as CAPS, LGBT, etc. Hopefully one of these places can help them cope with feeling uncomfortable around people of a separate race from themselves. It truly is a problem if people are uncomfortable with races other than their own and we should fight that issue. However, taking the Pantry into a negative light to do so…not the greatest idea, so I believe.

    • EP –

      The concept of ‘reverse racism’ (I assume you are implying that racism is defined as white people being racist to ethnic minorities, which is untrue) is actually just racism, and denying that is preposterous. Webster defines racism as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities…” which fits the bill quite well to what Ms. Norton is saying that students are fearful of. Quite simply they are fearful of people not of their race or financial status (because they also make the presumption that I will detail below about only minorities being poor/in need of food). Speaking of which, how in the hell is someone able to judge another person’s financial status by looking at them? Oh thats right, they use race and stereotypes to do that. That’s racism to lump someone into a socio-economic group based on race.

      Why is having to ‘confront the fact that unlike the rest of the student body she doesn’t have just have to worry about studying but about procuring food’ relegated to only people of color? You are implying that only minorities are in financial trouble and all white people are rich and have no problem procuring food. This is untrue, and also racist. Me understanding this situation does not make me a different race, it simply means I have a shared experience about economic difficulties. Yes there are often correlations between the two, but blaming race on economic difficulties only exacerbates the issue, and is a main reason why the US has many bloated welfare states (an issue I won’t delve into here for brevity’s sake).

      Lastly, the fact that you label the Pantry as shameful is unfounded sociologically. Yes, shame can manifest itself psychologically within an individual, but in today’s world of high tuitions, cash-strapped students and loan-burdened families, asking for help with necessities when the help is PROVIDED (it’s not as if they are panhandling) is not shameful. The culture on university campuses, especially UCD, is not one of judgment against those who have less. Look at the protests in the past year against high tuition and the amounts of students who have dropped out! That directly says that a large portion of the student body sympathizes with the plight of those who do not have the resources of the “1%” to afford all goods and services.
      And yes in fact, these students are lucky that this state/university provides them with food free of charge or any pre-approval. There are many universities out there that do not have programs like this with what I’m sure are many students in similar situations. However, luck does not have anything to do with this argument. It may, however, run out by the next fiscal year by looks of the California budgetary crisis.

      JM

    • As a frequent volunteer at The Pantry… I have to say I am very disappointed by this article, and as an Aggie, really embarrassed by The California Aggie and A LOT of recent articles.

      My concerns with this article are this. It seems to me that Norton is making a lot assumptions and not making reasonable statements using facts. HOW does she know the Pantry is not being utilized enough? I’ve volunteered at the Pantry probably more than anyone else on campus and the Pantry runs out of food pretty much every week. If anything, we should applaud the Pantry for being able to meet such high demands on daily basis.

      To Eros and Mrs. Norton, what do you want the Pantry to do? Go out on the quad and table at the MU with huge signs that say, “Looking for Ethnic people and minorities of color to serve others food at the Pantry!”?

  2. Release the employment records! If this is a federally-funded program (in part) then it must adhere to the appropriate Affirmative Action requirements! Also…I see two male employees in the image…wouldn’t that be intimidating for a female student in need? Additionally, they both look to be in their early 20s…older students in need may be dissuaded from participation. This is outrageous!

    • The staff consists of a majority of women. I think that the staff has four or five girls and three guys which I would say is rather balanced. As well, many organizations like Greek life will adopt a week and work there. What’s funny is that the pantry is actually pretty diverse for its small staff.

  3. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this sounds a lot like racism. Oh boy there he goes using the ‘R’ word! But yes, there are people out there who are complaining that they are getting their (free) food from people who don’t look like them or make them feel uncomfortable. Assuming that the body which hires/governs this Pantry would not hire or tolerate racism or insensitivity from its employees, then this behavior lies solely in the minds of the customers. This title seems to me like it is actually a polar opposite of the situation – the students are complaining that there is too much diversity (i.e. the people who run the pantry don’t ‘look like them’) so they don’t want to attend. Seems to me like the people who are complaining are actually afraid of diversity and want to be surrounded by only people that look and act like them. The exact opposite of the University’s goal for a diversely educated population.

    In case my previous writings weren’t clear, this would be akin to a homeless white male saying that he won’t go to the foodbank/soup kitchen in the high poverty, largely black and/or hispanic area of a city because he ‘doesn’t feel comfortable because there are no white people working there’. If that was ever a situation, it would immediately be branded as racist. And therein lies my point.

    JM

    • Fitting that all of the comments disparaging and attacking the concerns of Mrs.Norton as being nothing more than ‘whining’ or worse ‘reverse racism’ (which is a nonsensical concept by the way) more than likely come from the run-of-the-mill, typical Davisite. This campus is a White campus, nothing wrong with that (at least on the face of it), before you all take up your rhetorical arms and call me a reverse racist–the problem arises when this majority strikes down any sort of concern or misgiving that others might have. Have any of y’all transgressed your ‘whiteness’ as of late? Do you know what it might feel like for a person of color to have to firstly, confront the fact that unlike the rest of the student body, she doesn’t just have to worry about studying but about procuring food. In Davis of all places. So we’re past that hump–now you head into a place that is intimidating from the get go, it’s shame that seeking help is shameful, but it’s a reality. And to top it all off your shame is compounded by feelings of alienation from the people who are in good faith and with their hearts in the right places serving you. This is a real issue that needs to be sorted out and not shot down with ludicrous claims of ‘oh well they’re lucky they get the food, they best stop their whining, the ingrates!’

      You’re better than this Davis.

  4. The pantry sounds like a great organization that provides students with meeting the most basic and fundamental necessities. Romana Norton provides only criticisms and concerns but doesn’t offer any solutions. What is the pantry expected to do? Deny students who want to help because they are not minorities? Or force minority students to work for the pantry in order to make it more ethnically diverse? I find it more concerning that it became an issue about race and ethnicity when the aim of the pantry is to help students who are struggling financially. Financial struggles impact students of all races. Yes, some races show higher rates of poverty but it’s about feeding hungry students. The most logical thing to do in order to fix this problem is motivate as many students from varying (majority and minority) ethnic backgrounds to volunteer which means giving the pantry as much positive media it can get. This article does the exact opposite by giving the pantry a bad reputation. If students felt uncomfortable going there now, they’ll only feel stronger aversion from reading this article.

  5. Hi there,

    I would like to ask anyone what it is that you suggest the Pantry does to fix this problem of “diversity.” The Staff of the Pantry go through a selection process that includes interviewing and applying. These people are selected based on their desire to give back and fight starving students.

    Is this article implying that the Pantry should select people to work there based off of ethnicity? And I will have it known that the Pantry staff is very well represented by many different minority groups so I’m curious where this information is coming from…

    As well, the Pantry is completely anonymous and does not keep track of who comes or what races are most commonly approaching the Pantry. That is the beauty of this place–they do not judge based off of anything and they cannot deny you if you are a student with an ID. Who ever is making these claims does not know the creed and mission of the Pantry as well as they thought they did.

    I know the Pantry staff personally and they are very kind, very personable and have never turned anyone down (unless they did not have a presentable UC Davis ID). This article is quite unfounded because it is criticizing a student-run food bank that is fighting against a very important cause. Any person who is trying to give the Pantry negative media attention is out of their mind. Especially since the staff devote so much of their time to ensuring the Pantry is open everyday for students who really do need it.

    So re-evaluate yourself for writing this piece. You just criticized an organization that is attempting to fight student hunger on your own campus. How do you feel now?

    Right now, after reading this, I don’t feel that proud to be an Aggie if this is what my campus newspaper is going to write about. Find something that is actually true and stop putting down your own campus organizations. Thanks.

  6. What you call ‘whining’ seem like legitimate concerns to me. Our everyday interactions are regulated and impacted by cultural difference. Now take that and apply it to students who are having to struggle with securing food for themselves at Davis–the land of milk and honey. The Pantry is a fantastic service but if there are indeed people who feel uncomfortable with visiting then something needs to be done.

  7. Wow. Just wow. As a former employee and unit director at ASUCD, all I can say is people at that school will whine about anything, even FREE FOOD. ASUCD does not have control over WHO applies to work. The people complaining in this story make me angry.

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