Dining changes anger students

Dining officials vigorously defended J Street changes and Colonial Cash spending requirements last week before a town hall meeting with students, many of whom said they were losing faith in University food options.

Beginning this semester, freshmen are required to spend $1,400 a year at J Street using their GWorld cards. Sophomores are required to spend $500 a year. Many students said that although food content has improved from previous years, required spending is not fair to the student body.

Last Wednesday about 40 students attended a meeting – sponsored by the Student Association – featuring representatives from Sodexho, Starbucks and Campus Support Services.

Emotions ran high among disappointed attendees who yelled, walked around the room and used food as props.

Sarah Caffee, a sophomore, broke into tears while addressing the panel. She said the new program makes it impossible for her to continue the organic lifestyle she prefers.

“I was so angry when I heard I was going to be forced to spend money at J Street,” Caffee said after the meeting. “I feel like students’ rights and preferences have been completely ignored in this decision.”

Sodexho wanted assured profits before making any risky changes, such as scaling down national brands, said SA Director of dining and retail Francis Murray.

“Students should accept the required spending as a necessary prerequisite to the changes they were demanding,” Murray said.

Joshua Sacks, a sophomore, recently created the Web site FightJStreet.com, which provides a written outline of the problems at the venue, as well as several solutions. At the town hall gathering, Sacks spoke of his studies on J Street prices and wait-times, illustrating his points by holding up fistfuls of food provided by Sodexho.

“We should be giving venue owners a profit incentive to provide good food and competent service rather than rewarding the overpriced goods and services currently offered at J Street,” Sacks said.

Several people questioned the necessity of having an outside food service provider at all. University officials have said in the past that a food service provider such as Sodexho is necessary in the event of an emergency. Under the plan, Sodexho would provide water and other necessities to students on campus.

Nancy Haaga, managing director of Campus Support Services, recognized some students were unhappy with the required spending.

“After years of no restrictions on GWorld, the change has been painful for some students,” Haaga said in an interview after the meeting, “Eventually we hope to get to the point where we have enough consumer confidence within the student body that we can go back to a completely flexible plan.”

Mohsen Emami, the Sodexho director at GW, said students will soon see the benefits of switching from national brands like Jamba Juice and Quiznos to smaller labels.

“When we heard complaints last year about venues closing early or not carrying certain items, we couldn’t do anything about it because you can’t control national brands.” Emami said. “But now we can be more flexible and respond to student needs.”

As the meeting came to a close, sophomore Robert Banick, summed up what he said was the “crux of the matter” as he addressed the panel.

“If you keep the improvements to J Street but remove the spending requirement, I think you will go a long way in improving student opinion,” Banick said.

Even students who did not attend the meeting had opinions about the changes. Sophomore Amanda Dachille said she ate at Cyclone Salads in J Street often last year and was disappointed it was replaced by a smaller salad bar.

“I will eat at J Street because I have to spend $500 there,” Dachille said. “But I’m not happy about it.”

Melissa O’Brien, a sophomore who works with Hillel, said she was dissatisfied with the lack of kosher food options and the general selection.

“I tried to get food during a peak lunch hour and there was nothing left,” O’Brien said. “Last year, even if you had to wait, there was still food.”

“I wish we had the option of spending our GWorld money wherever we wanted,” freshman Adam Fischer said, “You can definitely get a better value at other places.”

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