In a ribbon-cutting ceremony that featured balloons, blue and white tents and protesters, University officials dedicated a new café in the lobby of the Shapiro Undergraduate Library yesterday afternoon.
The ceremony featured speeches from University President Mary Sue Coleman and University alum Bertram Askwith, who donated more than $200,000 toward the project. Askwith is the namesake of the café, called Bert’s Café.
The new café could help draw students to study in the library, which didn’t previously have a place to buy drinks or snacks. Other campus libraries, like the Duderstadt Center on North Campus, already have similar facilities.
“I knew that this would be popular with students,” Coleman said. “It’s just a nice place to have coffee and goodies while in the library, and the fact that Bert made that possible for us and for our students is fabulous.”
LSA sophomore Alexandra Tracy said she thinks the café will be popular with students.
“The cafe is a great idea because it offers a place to relax and hang out for students who come to the library to study,” she said.
Coleman’s speech was briefly interrupted by protesters from Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality, a campus activist group.
Just as she was beginning to speak, SOLE member Jason Bates, an LSA senior, spoke over her, attempting to draw the crowd’s attention to the topic of sweatshops. He criticized what he said were unfair labor practices in factories making University-licensed products.
Coleman waited for Bates to conclude his two-minute talk. She then replied “Thank you” and started her own speech, which went uninterrupted from that point.
While Bates was speaking, LSA junior Aria Everts, another SOLE member, presented Coleman with an oversized check for 25 cents. Everts said that amount was significant because that’s all it would cost per clothing item to substantially improve working conditions for sweatshop employees overseas.
“We wanted to do something that would be useful to fill people in at once on the University’s complacencies,” Everts said. “It is always difficult to find President Coleman, and we felt that being where she was helped us make a strong statement.”
Things calmed down after the protest, though. After the speeches, Askwith poured the opening cup of coffee, and everyone in attendance was invited in for free coffee and pastries.
During the Great Depression – and while he was still a student – Askwith founded a bus company, which later became Campus Coach Lines, a nationwide luxury bus service. The business is still running today.
Askwith, who previously gave money for the Askwith Media Library in the UGLi and the Askwith Auditorium in Lorch Hall, asked University officials last year how he could help contribute to the University.
University Librarian Paul Courant said officials responded by saying Askwith could donate toward a café.
Askwith said he was excited about the new café.
“It’s a lovely setting and it just adds to the whole ambiance of the educational experience,” he said.