Political activism was a significant part of college life in the 1960s and 1970s when students came together to affect change in causes they cared about. Rallies, demonstrations and petitions were all part of the college experience in the era of Vietnam and civil rights movements. Now about 30 years later college campuses have been comparatively quiet. However, faced with the prospect of losing their favorite sandwich, Joshua Raff ’07 and Kyle Doppelt ’09 successfully rallied together in order to bring the Chicken Hilary back to the Big Red Barn.
The Big Red Barn, a center for graduates on campus that provides refreshment for undergraduates, graduate students and faculty alike, switched to the 5 Star catering company at the beginning of this year.
“They had a successful 5 Star program at Willard Straight and Bear Necessities, so they thought it would do well at the barn,” said a Big Red Barn employee who wished not to be named. “There are some who prefer this one and others who prefer the old.”
Doppelt is one of those people who preferred the old way and he saw the transition to 5 Star as an attempt to homogenize Cornell’s dining facilities. “It was tragic that they got rid of it,” he said. “What makes the Cornell lunch system unique is that every lunch place is different and now they are trying to streamline it.”
The introduction of the new catering company meant changes in the menu and the removal of the Chicken Hilary from the Big Red Barn sandwich repertoire.
“The Chicken Hilary at the Big Red Barn is in the top four of campus sandwiches,” Raff said. “I don’t go there that much, but when I do, I always get it. It has special marinated chicken, coleslaw, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing.”
Not ones to sit by and let their favorite sandwich disappear, Raff and Doppelt immediately swung into action.
“I made a vow that I would not rest until the Chicken Hilary was brought back to the Big Red Barn,” Raff said. “I made a petition and handed out flyers.”
Unfortunately, Raff’s enthusiasm did not spread throughout campus as quickly as he had hoped.
“I put up the petition and checked a week later and there were very few signatures,” he said. “I had signed it a couple times and made my friends go.”
Not willing to admit defeat, the activists continued to promote their cause by taking to the streets and handing out flyers on Ho plaza.
But Raff and Doppelt’s efforts did not go unheard. The Cornell community responded to their passion and dedication.
“After Fall Break, I got a call from a friend who said the sandwich was back,” Raff said. “I didn’t believe it, so I came to see for myself. It was not completely back, it had the same ingredients, but no French bread, which was kind of important.”
Proud of his efforts and elated over the Chicken Hilary’s comeback, Raff inquired with the Big Red Barn employee he spoke to during his petitioning whether it was his activism that led to the sandwich’s reinstatement.
“It was a very popular sandwich,” she said. “And it was because of people like this young gentlemen that we decided to bring things back.”
After fighting for their beliefs, Raff and Doppelt were able to have an impact.
“People take their sandwiches very seriously, especially Raff,” Doppelt said. “I usually didn’t think you could change anything.”
Glowing with his success, Raff said that he was glad he could do something to contribute to the Cornell community.
“I wanted it brought back not just for me to enjoy, but for everyone to enjoy,” he said as he took a bite of a Chicken Hilary sandwich. “A friend of mine said I should have it re-named the Chicken Raff. I said maybe next time.”