Four years ago, dinnertime at J Street was an event for a large portion of the GW community. Students packed into the food court, and it was difficult to even find a seat.
Beginning this semester, would-be diners will not even be able to eat dinner at half of the Marvin Center’s venues thanks to a reduction in evening hours by Sodexho. While students may have more GWorld options to obtain food off campus, this latest change to hit the already-dwindling J Street may be an indication of bigger problems with GW’s so-called student union.
The food court located at the center of campus has gone through many changes over the past several years. During a major renovation, constant tweaks in J Street’s venues and a shift in operators from Aramark to Sodexho, dining officials have relied on student input for all major readjustments.
These methods have apparently failed and resulted in inconsistent food offerings, including a grocery/convenience store that has completely shut down, leaving an empty space in the Marvin Center basement.
The recent reduction in hours for a handful of J Street venues is the latest event in the decline of the Marvin Center, despite money and time being spent to actively improve the food court. Clearly, students will not be able to use this area as a major communal area to meet and enjoy dinner.
Sodexho is a private company, and it is understandable that they would limit operations if student demand is unable to sustain a profitable operation. Rather than allow this change to occur without a second look, administrators should view it as an indication that the Marvin Center no longer attracts students and may no longer serve their interests. It is essential that administrators do not merely accept the reduction in operation but determine whether a lack of other student-oriented services is hurting attendance at J Street.
In the past, this page has discussed the fact that Marvin Center has increasingly become a commercial entity that rents space to outside interests and forces student groups to provide food through a costly provider. While this trend may benefit the University’s bottom line, it has the potential to drive students away.
With so many other options on Colonial Cash compared to just a few years ago, students living farther away from the Marvin Center will need to have a reason to trek there to eat. If food is the only attractive part of our student union, then many living around campus will merely find different places to eat.
An empty Marvin Center during the busy evening hours erodes from GW’s sense of community and does not give students a central location to congregate. This predicament, in turn, means that colonials have one fewer reason to go to the student union.
If campus officials are unwilling to concede some space in the Marvin Center outside of J Street to student needs, a viable option may involve permanently removing the less-popular dining venues in J Street and replacing them with other student-oriented spaces. This may result in a loss in profits during the busy weekday lunch hours, but it may be necessary to give meaning to the Marvin Center’s student union moniker.
No matter what the solution is, Sodexho’s decision – based on decreased demand – is an indication that students are unhappy with the Marvin Center. It is now up to administrators to investigate whether a lack of student focus in this building is driving the demise of J Street.