GW Dining is turning to student employees to help students with dietary restrictions find places to eat on campus.
The department launched its new dining representative program last week, which features student employees running social media campaigns to advertise campus dining options for students with specific diets, like vegan or gluten-free. The program is designed to make GW’s meal plan, where students eat at dining vendors in the area instead of a traditional dining hall, easier to navigate for all students, University spokesman Brett Zongker said.
The program’s pilot semester will have five student representatives who work part-time for the department and focus on different restrictions: vegetarian or vegan, kosher, Halal, gluten-free and one “lifestyle focused” student examining dining options near the Mount Vernon Campus, Zongker said.
“The representative program is intended to build on the culture around dining on campus, as well as make the open dining model as accessible and convenient as possible for the student body,” he said in an email.
Zongker said the program is part of GW Dining’s plan to expand its social media outreach following the implementation of an “open” dining plan last year. He said the department received requests to more directly assist students with dietary restrictions.
The student representatives will use their specialized Twitter handles to offer suggestions and advice to students navigating GWorld vendors. Their tweets will then be advertised across GW Dining’s other social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, Zongker said.
He said that GW Dining plans to partner with student organizations on campus, like the Residence Hall Association and the Student Association, to more widely and consistently share updates to the dining program. He said a “long-term” goal will be to use student representatives to create more discounted meal options for students on specialized diets and organize special dining events and “pop-up” vendors.
So far, two of the five representatives – one for vegetarianism and veganism and one for a Kosher diet – have been introduced on GW Dining’s Twitter page. Representatives for gluten-free and Halal diets will follow in the coming weeks, Zongker said.
Genevieve Cifelli, a junior and the department’s vegetarian and vegan representative, said that when she first came to campus, it wasn’t hard for her to find vegetarian options, but healthy options were difficult to come by. When she heard about the representative program over the summer, she said she was “passionate” about the topic and contacted people to get involved.
“I’ve been on campus and in D.C. for over two years now, so I know more than many freshmen coming in, and I want to share that knowledge,” she said in a Facebook message. “Ultimately, my role is to help students, so I really want to work with our vegetarian and vegan classmates to decide what topics to explore.”
Cifelli said in the past that she’s attempted to try every GWorld vendor to find the best options for her.
“Dinner time? I recommend the vegan pizza slice from Whole Foods,” Cifelli tweeted last week from her representative account, @GWDiningVeg.
Cifelli said vegetarian and vegan students should not feel restricted in their options.
“We are so lucky to be on a campus where we have so many unique options, instead of just one dining hall,” she said. “So many of us on campus do have dietary restrictions, so I think providing a forum, like this, where we can all exchange ideas and suggestions is an effective one.”
Zongker said GW Dining has also been recruiting student representatives through student organizations that have connections with certain dietary restrictions, including asking GW Hillel to find a kosher representative and the Multicultural Student Services Center, the Muslim Students’ Association and GW Pakistani Students’ Association to find a student focused on Halal.
Hillel Zand, a junior and president of the Jewish Students Association, said that while GW Dining tried to coordinate with his organization, he isn’t sure how the program will actually promote kosher options on GWorld because there are not many to begin with.
“I don’t think there’s as much as there needs to be,” he said. “I know that’s been a problem for a lot of Jewish students, especially for prospective students when they’re looking at GW and they see that there aren’t really any viable kosher dining options.”
Zand said he followed a strict kosher diet last year while living with two roommates who followed it – though he does not always keep strict kosher – but said he has seen the struggles of other Jewish students searching for kosher options.
Before J Street, GW’s only Foggy Bottom dining hall, closed last year, Zand said there was a small section of kosher options available to students that were not popular. Now, most students must visit Whole Foods to find appropriate meals or visit Brooklyn Sandwich Co., a kosher food truck that frequents campus.
“I just don’t understand what GW Dining could do short of building a kosher restaurant on campus,” he said.