Juliette Dallas-Feeney: Loss of Grounds for Change not just about the coffee

GW and Sodexho’s recent decision to shut down the fair trade coffee venue, Grounds for Change, in J Street is more than just a change of coffee beans. It’s a dramatic and unforeseen change in the way the administration works with student organizations, or in this case, doesn’t.

We’ve had several successes lately regarding student campaigns with the administration, such as bringing back free newspapers in dorms as part of the GW Reads program and finally a grocery store that accepts Colonial Cash.

And last year, GW Students for Fair Trade campaigned for fair trade products to be sold on campus and won, with the inception of Grounds for Change in a handful of GW buildings.

But if you’ve been in Duques Hall, J Street or Ames Dining Hall recently, you may have noticed that Seattle’s Best now takes the place of Grounds for Change.

What’s wrong with this picture is that this replacement occurred without any notice to the student body, specifically the student organization it means the most to – GW Students for Fair Trade. The first word they got of the venue change was from a member who walked by Duques Hall and saw a “Serving Seattle’s Best” sign in the window.

For the students who campaigned so diligently to make GW a more socially responsible campus, their efforts feel fruitless.

Grounds for Change was a big victory for GWSFT. The fair trade student organization worked with Sodexho to improve the quality of the coffee at Grounds for Change at the J Street station.

The GW community received the fair trade coffee venue significantly well. Many saw it as a refreshing alternative to the omnipresent Starbucks and supported its message of justice.

Business at Grounds for Change in J Street and Ames Dining Hall suffered because Sodexho kept cutting back the hours until they were so unpredictable that no one knew whether they were actually still open. The venue in J Street specifically was so poorly managed that it was bound for failure.

Christina Lizzi, last year’s president of GWSFT and current Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizer for United Students for Fair Trade, said that employees in the Duques Hall Grounds for Change reported that sales increased throughout the year and many were happy to be serving coffee with a story of justice behind it.

So why then, did this replacement occur? It doesn’t make much sense that GW would ruthlessly and stealthily ax Grounds for Change – for economic or social reasons.

Amanda Formica, current GWSFT president, said “as a University that is encouraging students to take on socially responsible campaigns on campus.(and) trying to promote a globally conscious, greener image, I find this development hypocritical.”

She also recalled that when GW switched from the food service provider Aramark to Sodexho last year, an important selling point was that they could offer fair trade coffee.

Formica expressed her disappointment with GW and Sodexho and how they seem to be putting business before students’ concerns. “They will only listen to money and not the genuine concern of students for the social and environmental conditions of countries less fortunate.”

GW and Sodexho seem to be not following through completely with their vow of offering fair trade coffee. Grounds for Change is a smaller company truly dedicated to equal relationships in trade and occupied an important role on campus.

Seattle’s Best, which does have a fair trade line that will be provided at GW’s locations, also sells conventional coffee and does not hold the same record as Grounds for Change in commitment to exploitation-free coffee.

The lack of communication that occurred between GWSFT and Sodexho was unacceptable. If Sodexho and GW had a concern with any aspect of Grounds for Change, they should have contacted GWSFT for input and ideas. Their student organization worked with Sodexho to get Grounds for Change up and running, and not a word was said to them when it closed. It was as if they were only waiting for the year to end and cite revenue reasons and be done with it.

Much of the GW community may not even notice this change, but this is bigger than just a different brand of coffee. These students were treated unfairly after patiently and thoroughly lobbying for what is right.

-The writer is a sophomore majoring in journalism.

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