Vending on Campus and Why Students Can't
by Morgan LaMere | published Apr. 26th, 2019
It’s likely you’ve seen them before: vendors filling up the Student Alumni Union (SAU) and residence areas. Some are here for events and others are selling their wares on a regular basis. Jewelry, art, clothing and more are all able to be sold by outside vendors, alumni, faculty, clubs and on-campus organizations.
But, no matter how hard you look, you won't be able to find any individual students. This is because, according to RIT policy, students aren’t allowed to directly vend on campus.
At face value, this absence in student vendors can seem counterintuitive. After all, this is RIT — a school centered around giving students opportunities for creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. So, why doesn’t RIT let students vend?
“The primary purpose was for students to come to school and get an education, not make money. They [can always] go through student employment,” Carol Reed, senior associate director and manager of Campus Life Facilities, said.
“The primary purpose was for students to come to school and get an education, not make money.”
Her office deals with vendors solely in the SAU, verifying those that are approved to sell their goods. Reed has been involved with vending services for a long time, and she explained the evolution of vending on campus.
“It has changed over time. In the older days, vending was directly related to clubs,” she said. “[It] started with the idea of trying to support student organizations raising money.”
As clubs matured and evolved, traditional methods of fundraising, such as bake sales, no longer brought in enough money. Therefore, clubs began sponsorships with outside vendors to come into their events, vetted through legal affairs and with profits split between participating parties.
Eventually, after expressing interest for some time, these vendors were permitted to come to campus of their own volition after approval from Reed and her office. One such vendor, Mike Dellaria, has been vending local artwork, T-shirts, jewelry and more to students for 42 years.
“When I first started, [I] just wanted to sell in general,” Dellaria said. “[RIT is] a very good college market.”
After off-campus vendors are approved by Reed’s office, they pay a set amount per vending table they wish to utilize. This works fine for off-campus vendors and student groups, but not for individual students.
If a student were to develop a business model and wished to sell to other students on campus, they would be denied.
When asked about whether students should be able to sell their wares, the answers were complicated.
“I think students should be allowed to vend,” Dellaria responded. “[However,] they should be held responsible— 50 to 60 percent of the time [student groups] don’t show up and the tables go empty, and that’s not good.”
Despite this no-show, as Dellaria phrased it, he still appeared to be in support of the idea. Similarly, for Reed, she only notices one complication: there is little pushback from students regarding their lack of opportunity to vend.
“That hasn’t been something that we’ve had a lot of issue with,” Reed said. “I think most students understand that our goal is to help student organizations. We haven’t gotten a lot of pushback.”
This lack of pushback could be explained by the blunt message most students see on the Center for Campus Life's website — "individual students are not allowed to vend" — deterring many people from looking any deeper. However, Reed suggested that if students were to express enough interest, it is possible that after some work with legal services, student vending could become a reality.
In the meantime, there are still several avenues for students to take if they are looking to express their creativity.
Students Selling on Campus
There have been several ways that students have been able to work around this policy of who can and cannot vend.
For example, in classes that design and produce works of art, faculty often provide a solution.
“[For] the jewelry students and ceramic students who do their work, a faculty member will book a room in the [SAU], and the students will sell their wares,” Reed stated.
While students cannot vend by themselves, faculty can, and often do, book tables for students to sell class-made items. They, along with others, can see Reed at her office in the SAU to fill out the proper paperwork.
Other options for students include joining clubs, simply selling among friends or selling through a relatively new shop in Global Village known as Shop One. Wendy Marks, director of finance and administration galleries, talked about the goal of Shop One.
“[It's] a place to showcase RIT creativity and talent,” she said.
The shop hosts work from alumni, faculty and current students whose work is occasionally sponsored by an external company. These works include ceramics, glasswork and metal works, among others.
“When a student is interested in showing their work here, they come in and we have a casual conversation,” Marks stated.
Marks never rejects an idea. If it’s not fully evolved yet, she simply gives the student a push in the right direction.
“We mentor to address their presentation ... packaging and processing so it’s ready to show and sell to the public,” she said.
Once the work is ready to sell, an agreement is reached where the artist receives 60 percent of the retail price. The remainder goes to covering staff and packaging at the RIT-owned shop.
Marks acknowledged that students have a tremendous amount of ideas and energy, but also agreed with Reed on a key point.
“[Students are] here to pursue learning, and their coursework takes up most of their time,” she said.
Despite this, Marks seeks to provide something fun for students to do in their free time without it being a time-consuming business.
“I would like people to look at the shop as [having] an open-door policy, to feel that everyone is welcome,” Marks said. “I am open to collaborating with any department or individual.”
While policies can be changed, it currently stands that individual students are not allowed to vend. Thankfully for those students who are business oriented or artistically inclined, there are several options they can pursue to gain more publicity for their name and brand.