Forum provides platform for Sodexo showdown
International students air grievances, ask for definitive solution
An ongoing saga had a landmark moment at the Student Forum yesterday, when international groups voiced their concerns about the policy that makes it mandatory to use Sodexo as a dining service provider for Rayburn Student Center events.
President of the Caribbean Student Association (CaribSA) Ryan Maycock read out a list of grievances the international community had against Sodexo. Among these were the perceived "lack of care" in the preparation of international cuisine and the prices charged by the global dining service company.
"A business needs to make profit, we understand that," Maycock said. "But it should not be done while causing the organizations to spend all of the money they have raised and had to fundraise to make a top-three food service organization only wealthier."
Maycock said there was a pattern of reactive responses to similar complaints in the past, instead of proactive steps forward, which is what the international community wants with this issue.
"It was after the fact that Sodexo mentioned they would be willing to transport food from an external company," he said. "The cost of transportation is still an exorbitant amount and has limits of categorization. Why should we have to pay three-to-five times as much for food service to cater to our need when we can go outside the university and have it done for, possibly, half the cost?"
The incident with undercooked rice at last week's Sodexo-catered Caribbean Night was brought up as well. Sodexo General Manager Charles Lear admitted that a mistake was made and the employee was reprimanded. He said the company has an insurance policy to go along with their control of RSC food services, making it safer for students.
"We may put somebody at risk, but we also have the means to back that up," Lear said.
Lear also said he has seen little response to previous statements that students can always come by his office and set up one-on-one meetings so he can work with them to make their event as close to their liking as possible.
Maycock said students do not always feel comfortable in such meetings and that sometimes they are all for not.
"Students feel intimidated in one-on-one meetings, and promises are made that are not fulfilled," he said.
As the discussion descended, Jorge Juarez, the director of the Morris Recreation Center, which hosted Caribbean Night, and Pratyush Kotturu of the India Student Association, both said this meeting needed to be more about solutions and less about applying the blame.
Kotturu said this was important, as the issues international students have are shared by other campus organizations that want to use the RSC.
"There are nine cultural events left for this semester, and the majority will be conducting their events off campus," Maycock said. "We should not have to jeopardize quality for cost and convenience for the purpose of making an external company richer. That is why we are asking for resolve and to create a win-win-win situation for students, the university and Sodexo."
Student Government Association Vice President and Senate Chair Adam Haney said his organization is offering to host an open forum between international students and Sodexo, in which all of the grievances would be spelled out and solutions would be developed cooperatively.
Vice President for Student Access and Success Dr. Mary Hendrix also offered some remedies, such as a checklist of steps to host events at the RSC - making it clear how far in advance organizations need to prepare - and programs to grant food handling certificates to students who wished to obtain one for their organization.
Hendrix said while the campus administration does understand the concerns being brought forth by students, the safety of those students had to come first.
"We understand how important food is to your culture," she said. "We also understand the need for safety on this campus. Members of staff have met to discuss what we have seen so far in regards to this issue. This was not done to resolve the issue, but to name options for potential solutions."
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