Staff Editorial: Student leaders must take control of dining dilemma

In the first weeks of the fall 2007 semester, this page criticized the recent changes to campus dining that required freshmen and sophomores to spend a specific portion of their Colonial Cash at prescribed dining facilities. As the spring semester begins, dining dissatisfaction remains at a similarly high level with students waiting to see definite changes in this arena. For this to happen, both students and administrators must make concessions about their ideas for dining spending options.

Student Association leaders, notably President Nicole Capp and Executive Vice President Brand Kroeger, must move beyond conversation and enact actual change on this issue.

Because both parties’ concerns surrounding dining are valid, striking a compromise is essential for any sort of resolution. SA leaders have been successful in a host of endeavors this year, which this page has applauded, but the student body is eagerly awaiting news of how the dining dilemma will be resolved. It is time for the SA leadership to address those issues of greatest concern to the student body. With dining’s central presence in daily student life, there will no sustainable solution without decisive actions from student leaders.

In many ways, the dining system at GW is a no-win situation. Without a cafeteria or dining hall-based system, a sense of community is hard to foster in campus dining. The convenience and dining freedoms that GW students have come to expect are vital. Similar to how GW students balance internships and classes, campus dining must find a medium between student desires and the University’s bottom line.

Capp and Kroeger met with Lou Katz, executive vice president and treasurer, late last semester – leaving a short amount of time before their term expires to handle this complex issue. Although they are now addressing the issue with top administrators, students are eager to learn if next year’s dining policy will be any different. Their voices rest solely with the SA.

The two SA executives are lobbying for freshman mandatory spending to be reduced from $1,400 to $1,000 and the option for underclassmen to carry over remaining funds until graduation. Leaders should be commended for their realistic expectations that they cannot completely scrap the mandatory spending. For their part, the administration must take notice of the proposal and respond carefully to this central student life concern.

From an official standpoint, dining can help establish the community mentality GW longs to see. Students naturally gravitate toward this element of student life, making the current shortfalls all the more obvious. Yet dining at GW, at the end of the day, is also a business – one that the University and food service provider Sodexho want to see successful. It is crucial to honor students’ concerns in providing a necessary service in campus dining.

Simple steps such as student-friendly hours at J Street could have an immediate impact. Although J Street stays open later on weeknights, the central dining venue is completely closed on weekends – days when students are free from the demands of classes and may have more time to sit down for a meal with friends. Such benefits extend beyond the underclassmen, as juniors and seniors may be more inclined to spend their unrestricted dollars in more accommodating venues.

The constant renovations and alterations to dining options have taken their toll on student satisfaction with campus food. Each year brings a new rotation of vendors, demands and problems. Beyond simply providing sustenance, dining at GW has become an indicator of how student wants and needs are valued, or not, on this campus. A reasonable compromise to the dining debacle can be found through sincere efforts and honoring student opinion. Students and administrators must make this investment in order to render a fulfilling compromise.

Student leaders must act as the voice for the community, not just organize town halls and facilitate discussion. Finding a permanent answer to the dining debate will help ensure an enduring partnership between students, administrators and the SA. Failure in this realm would mar the otherwise successful tenure of Capp and Kroeger.

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