Candidates running in the current Student Association election are grappling with how to approach a popular platform – reducing or eliminating mandatory dining spending – in light of administrators saying definitively that the program will not be abolished in the near future.
The two-year old initiative, which requires freshman and sophomores to spend $700 and $250 respectively each semester at J Street and a handful of other Sodexo venues, began two years ago and its reform has since been a popular campaign platform for students running for SA offices.
Many of this year’s presidential candidates have mentioned dining reform on their platform.
But GW is three years into a 10-year contract with Sodexo, which manages the J Street dining area, and University administrators say they will not be changing the required dining program.
“We are not going to be getting rid of the mandatory spending at J Street anytime soon,” said Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz.
Katz, who eats at J Street four or five times a week, said the University sees mandatory spending as a way to build community on campus, and this plan is one of the most flexible plans out there. The plan also ensures a steady stream of revenue for Sodexo, which has had unstable income from J Street in the past.
Louis Laverone, a junior running for SA executive vice president, said he will not put mandatory reform on his platform, instead focusing on things he sees as “realistic.”
“Sodexo has the school over a barrel right now in terms of student dining, and it’s going to be a long while before we have an opportunity to fix the GWorld requirement,” said Laverone, a current SA senator. “Candidates who claim they’ll ‘fix J Street’ within months after entering office are just fishing for votes.”
Freshman Josh Goldstein, who is running for a senator seat representing the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, admits that he is hopeful for change but does not think it will happen soon.
“It took me a while to figure out why mandatory spending is the way it is,” Goldstein said. “A lot of people come in idealistically and I do not think it is as fixable of a plan as some people think it is.”
SA President Vishal Aswani and Executive Vice President Kyle Boyer said earlier this year that they would advocate for reforming the spending program. As in other years, the initiative has failed thus far.
But Boyer, currently a presidential candidate, is not giving up yet. He said he thinks that with broad student action, changes will be made.
“I work with the administration and I know how willing they are to work with people who prepare new ideas,” Boyer said. “If students and the SA come together, Sodexo will have to be willing to work with us. It just cannot come from different directions.”
Presidential candidate Sammy Lopez, along with running mate Arthur Goodland, said he is hopeful that his plan to reform dining will work if they are elected.
“It is a big waste of student money,” Lopez said. He added that their campaign’s “primary goal” is to eliminate mandatory spending requirements.
How many of the candidates will promise to reduce J Street’s mandatory spending is yet to be seen, but Lopez thinks that despite obstacles, the position is an easy rallying point.
“It is real easy for the students to unite when the sole benefactor of the program is Sodexo,” Lopez said. “No student wants to be told how to spend his money.”