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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Students protest univ meal options

Published: October 2, 2014
Section: Featured, News

A group of students entered Upper Usdan on Monday, Sept. 22 and began hanging signs near Louis’ Deli in order to express dissatisfaction with Sodexo, the food service provider for Brandeis. The group also set up two tables outside Usdan, where passing students were asked to sign a petition to Sodexo and the Brandeis administration, and next to the Deli’s entrance, where students could write complaints on sticky notes. They were then placed on the Usdan wall next to the student-made posters.

Posters addressed multiple issues, including the mandate from Brandeis starting in the fall of 2015 that will require all residential students to have meal plans. Also posted were print-outs of student posts on the Sodexo Fan Club Facebook page. The page, created by Arya Boudaie ’17, invites Brandeis students to write sarcastically positive posts about Sodexo and its services.

The protest was organized by Samantha Rockey ’17, who said in an interview that she had been inspired by multiple conversations with Sasha Ruiz ’17 (layout editor at The Brandeis Hoot) to make a public event. “Sasha was an Orientation Leader, and she told me how a group of OLs told Sodexo that they were unhappy with the situation,” Rockey said. “She also said that she wanted to hear from the rest of the student body, and I started brainstorming to myself.”

Rockey also said that she considered a live protest “an unrealistic pipe dream,” until she saw the popularity of the Sodexo Fan Club group. She then contacted Boudaie, as well as the Student Union, and began to plan the protest. “We want the administration and Sodexo to deal directly with students,” Rockey said. “It doesn’t make sense for them to decide how we use dining services without our input.”

Boudaie echoed these sentiments, adding concerns about paying for meal plans in the future on top of rising university costs, including tuition. “[Dining hall] hours barely let people use all the meals they’re forced to have,” Boudaie said in an interview. “[Sodexo] also keeps changing meal equivalencies, which makes things even harder for new students.”

The protest seemed to be going as planned, with many passing students stopping to write messages or sign the petition. Student Union President Sneha Walia ’15 stopped by and talked with Rockey about plans to present the sticky notes to the administration. The protest remained relatively uneventful until the arrival of Brandeis Vice President for Operation Jim Gray, who had a conversation with Rockey about the major issues at the protest.

“We have been well aware of the students’ concerns about dining services,” said Gray in an email to The Hoot addressing the protest. “We share many of them—and we have been working to address them.”

Gray also pointed to new additions to dining halls, such as improved quality of fruits and beverages, as well as the “My Zone” feature, designed to cater to various food allergies, as evidence of progress. “It is important to have context to understand the genesis of our current dining and food services program” Gray said. “Brandeis began a major shift three years ago when we reviewed our dining contract, which was coming up for renewal.” At that time, students were actively involved, and representatives from the student body had meetings with the administration on the topic.

According to Gray, the meal and points system replaced by Sodexo had received so much negative feedback that all new features and improvements were made under the assumption of moving away from it. Mandatory meal plans “[were] part of the contract and will ensure the system can function,” Gray added.

In the meantime, the administration recognizes that all systems have imperfections, and will continue to work with students on creating satisfying options for the Brandeis community. Rockey, Boudaie and others do not currently have plans for more protests, but told The Hoot that they are planning to work with the Student Union, as well as groups such as the Brandeis Labor Coalition, to progress their goals.