The sign is only a six-and-a-half-inch-wide circle, but it was big enough to provoke several CSUN students to get active.
On the sign: a picture of a tall cup standing next to a hamburger, enclosed in a circle drawn through with a diagonal line – “no food or drinks.”
After several days of planning, 16 CSUN students, as part of their COMS 401 Performance and Social Change class, decided to lock some of Manzanita Hall’s doors and only allow people with no products or Pepsi products to enter the building at noon on Oct. 25. There are 18 students in the class, two of whom helped prepare the demonstration but were not there, said Professor Tony Perruci.
This “culture jamming” project was the first of three assignments this fall, something that Perruci hopes will encourage student activism at CSUN.
The group told students, faculty and staff to either dispose of their non-Pepsi products or not enter the building. They called themselves Clean Students Unite Now (CSUN), referring to CSUN as “Corporate Sponsored University, Northridge.”
At one point, about a dozen students gathered inside the doors of Manzanita Hall and watched as the group physically searched and prevented people with non-Pepsi products from entering the building.
Taylor Zagnoli, a third-year theater student, stood in the walkway between Manzanita and Sierra Hall with a broom in his hand.
“Coke is the devil!” shouted Zagnoli, who was dressed in a black costume and nicknamed the “Pepsi Matador.”
CSUN student Paul Babin stood a few feet away with a table set up with several cans of regular Pepsi on top, next to a stereo that blasted music he said had been played on the corporation’s commercials.
“This (table) is just to get attention,” said Babin, a first-year graduate student in communication studies who came up with the idea. “This is a gimmick.”
The real message, he said, had to do with what the group wanted students to understand.
“Our biggest thing that we notice is that there is a no-food-no-smoking sign,” Babin said, adding that the group believes it is contradictory since there are vending machines inside the building.
People who passed by displayed almost every emotion, from bafflement to anger to understanding.
Joseph Makhluf, sophomore political science major, was talking to an acquaintance in Manzanita Hall and said he had not noticed the stickers on the doors before, but felt they might have something to do with protecting the computers in the building from getting damaged.
Who put the stickers on the doors and why they were put could not be confirmed after several attempts with the Physical Plant Management and several sources.
“It’s pretty ironic that they have stickers telling you not to bring in outside food, but then they have vending machines inside the building,” Makhluf said.
After about 20 minutes of halting almost everyone from entering Manzanita Hall, the students passed out fliers that gave more light to their cause: The group was not in support of Pepsi.
The group of students wanted to point out the underlying meaning of the sign, said Perruci, the communication studies professor who said his students came up with the idea and that involvement the demonstration was not mandatory.
“We were honoring the exclusivity of (the) Pepsi contract,” Perruci said.
“The idea is to show the specific powers private corporations get in relationship to a public university,” he said, adding that he believes corporations get more rights than students because the university allows Pepsi to have its products in building but does not allow students to bring in their products.
No-food-or-drink stickers of the sign were recently placed on the glass doors of Manzanita Hall. Other CSUN buildings, such as Cypress Hall and Nordhoff Hall, also have the stickers.
The demonstration project implemented the concept of “invisible theater,” where students could integrate performance into everyday life, Perruci said.
“This was the opportunity for our students to address a global, political issue in a local and immediate way,” he said.
The students called CSUN “corporate sponsored” because of The University Corporation’s 10-year contract with Pepsi, which does not allow Coca-Cola products to be sold at CSUN.
The amount of money for the contract, which went into effect Jan. 1, has not been revealed because officials at The University Corporation cite that it is a private entity and is not obligated to release that information.
“They can be mad at us, but our competitor Coca-Cola had the same opportunity we had – and we won,” said Cliff Rodriguez, key account manager of college and universities for PepsiCo. Inc. He encouraged students to speak to him.
“It’s not total exclusivity,” he said of the contract, adding that CSUN also sells Naked Food-Juice and other non-Pepsi products.
TUC sent out for a Request For Proposal to the Coca-Cola Co. in 2004, Rodriguez said.
“It’s our business and it’s what we do,” he said, adding that he thinks Pepsi benefits the university. “They don’t really understand the big picture.”
The company was established in 1965, making more than $1 billion a year for each of its 15 brands, according to the company’s website. Besides soda, the company sells water, and juice beverages such as Sobe.
Dave Nirenberg, TUC’s director of commercial services, said he did not hear about the demonstration, but said he thought it was important.
“I think an academic environment is an appropriate place for students to be activists,” he said. “It’s an important part of the learning experience.”
Tom McCarron, executive director of TUC, said he had no comment on CSUN being characterized as a corporate-sponsored university.
“The reason we do it is for the benefit of the university,” he said, adding that the Pepsi contract provides sponsorship money for CSUN.
Perruci had differing opinions.
“We’re a Pepsi university,” he said.
“What we wanted to (do) is to link the sign to Pepsi in the students’ minds.”
At one point, the small crowd started to applaud after Kathryn Sorrells, communications studies professor, poured bottled water onto the head of one of the more assertive “Clean Students.”
It was her way to show support for the “Clean Students,” she said.
Sorrells said the student whom she poured the water onto is one of her teacher assistants, and that it was done to “add to the dramatic aspect.”
“We need to bring attention to why this administration is having one corporation say we can’t come in with our own food or water,” she said. “I do not think we should be restricted by corporate rules.”
Jason Henke, political science major, said he understood the group was trying to make a point about CSUN’s contract with Pepsi, but disagreed with the student’s methods.
“They physically cannot search anyone,” he said. “They are violating a constitutional right we all have against unlawful search and seizure.”
Babin said he came up with the idea for the demonstration after watching the third season of a TV program called “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
The students are planning to do two more projects before the end of this semester, Perruci said.
The next project will deal with an off-campus “retail-intervention” project. The last project will be a “free-space” project that will allow students to do anything they want to.
Fellow communication studies professors were happy with the “student-driven activism” demonstration presented on campus, Perruci said.
“The function of the university should be more than training students to be good workers,” he said. “It should be about teaching them about debate. – At minimum, we hope they feel like they could do something here critically.”
Samuel Richard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Julio Morales can be reached at email@example.com