Refresh Your Public Space

Students Act Out Against The University’s New PepsiCo. Contract on Campus

A Concordia University security guard temporarily blocks Huggy the Muggy, Sustainable Concordia’s anti bottled water mascot, from entering the Hall Building. Photo Julia Wolfe

Überculture, a student group opposed to the “corporatization of campus and public space,” launched campaigns this past week targeting PepsiCo.

The protests come in the wake of a deal signed with Concordia last week granting PepsiCo. exclusive rights to beverage sales on campus.

Early last week, Pepsi was in the MB Building for a promotional campaign. Students were placed in front of a green screen holding a placard with a cause, charity or social project of their choice. The messages would be posted online and polled, with the goal of receiving grant money from Pepsi.

Increased security was present in the John Molson building for the event. The topics to be posted were screened—suggestions of “no bottled water on campus” or “reduce corporate influence on campus” were rejected by sales reps and enforced by security staff.

PepsiCo. also screened proposals under specific criteria (taken from the official website), including: “Don’t disparage any products, services, people or organizations. Don’t suggest the boycotts or negative action against any business or enterprise.”

It is safe to say that that überculture’s demonstration violated this agreement.

Überculture staged a costumed battle between Huggy the Muggy, the mascot for Sustainable Concordia’s campaign to ban bottled water, and a giant can of Pepsi. The beverage containers were escorted outside by security without incident.

The question of student representation and influence on campus came to the forefront last week, as closed-door negotiations between the university and PepsiCo. came to light and prompted protests and a sit-in outside the hospitality offices of Concordia.

Lex Gill, überculture’s coordinator, told The Link that student representation has been an ongoing issue at Concordia.

“The reality of the situation is that the student body is never consulted,” said Gill. “The Pepsi contract signing has attracted a bit of attention, so there are people asking, ‘Why wasn’t I represented?’ But when have you ever been represented? Have you ever been asked if you want huge ads taking up your public space?”

Gill pointed to systematic issues within the university as examples of students’ declining influence on campus.
“If you’re a student living in residence, you pay for a meal plan. It is mandatory,” she said. “What influence do you have over what you are eating and where it’s coming from?”

The Pepsi Refresh promotional event was part of a fundraiser for the Concordia Ukrainian Students’ Union. Vivian Zabuga, President of CUSU, said Pepsi’s involvement was more a matter of her connections with Consumer Impact Management (who were contracted by Pepsi to host the event) than any ties with PepsiCo.

For the event, CUSU rented a space to Pepsi in the John Molson building. All clubs and associations are able to pay for space on campus, which can in turn be contracted out to various organizations such as PepsiCo.
The student group can then charge any group hoping to host an event on campus a premium above the paid price for the space.

Überculture also targeted a large banner advertisement for Pepsi found outside Le Gym in the EV building. The banner, nearly six meters tall and four meters wide, read “do some good,” a reference to Pepsi’s Refresh ad campaign.

In response, überculture produced a stop-motion film echoing Pepsi’s promotion, displaying messages describing the banner as “invasive,” “hypocritical” and “an eyesore,” urging PepsiCo. to “back off.”

The film has been viewed hundreds of times on YouTube. The following day, the advertisement had been removed. Chris Mota, head of media relations for the university, said the removal of the banner was “accidental” and that it would be going back up “as soon as possible.”

Mota agreed that the actions taken by überculture were significant, but did not view their perspective as universal amongst Concordia students.

She also noted that CSU President Heather Lucas will be participating in the upcoming bottled water debate. Lucas, who was present for the meeting with Nestlé last week, did not have a role in the discussion.

When questioned if groups such as TAPthirst—an on-campus anti-bottled-water organization—would be involved in the negotiations, Mota would only say that “Roger Coté [acting Concordia VP of services] will be contacting the recognized student representative at the CSU.”

Roger Coté replaced Michael Di Grappa this week as VP services, with Di Grappa leaving to take a position at McGill. Di Grappa was among the group of administrators which TAPthirst co-founder Laura Beach accused of breach of trust last week.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 13, published November 9, 2010.