Michele Edwards hands a sandwich to a student on Monday, Mar. 23, 2015, at UC lower Cort. The student senate ad hoc committee on dining is releasing a survey for students to gain information on their dining experiences. (Nan He/B&W photo)

Student Senate committee works to explore dining options


The Lehigh Student Senate ad-hoc dining committee recently surveyed Sodexo employees and is in the process of distributing a survey to all students that are on a meal plan. The student survey intends to collect ideas and concerns from students regarding dining options on campus.

Last semester, the Lehigh Student Senate formed an ad-hoc committee for dining services following a passionate voice of concern from JJ O’Brien,’16. O’Brien said he has been frustrated with the dining situation at Lehigh since he was a first-year student.

“This issue touches every student at Lehigh and I am astounded that students haven’t tried to fix the issue up until now,” O’Brien said.

He said his concerns became too pertinent to ignore so he decided to take action and discuss his issues at a student senate meeting.

“When I went to present my thoughts to the student senate, I was pleased to see that I was not the only individual who felt passionate about the dining situation at Lehigh,” O’Brien said.

His concerns echoed that of some other students on campus, so he said he and the student senate knew something had to be done.

Lindsay Wilson, ’18, was in her first semester at Lehigh and a member of the student Senate when she first learned of O’Brien’s concerns. She said when she heard O’Brien’s statements, she knew that she could not sit idle and see nothing get accomplished. Immediately after the discussion, the ad-hoc dining committee was formed, comprised of eight students with Wilson as its leader.

An ad-hoc committee is a committee that is considered part of the student senate, but other students can join regardless of whether or not they are a student senator. This gives all students the opportunity to voice their opinions, concerns and suggestions regarding the topic of focus in the committee.

“I felt strongly about (the dining committee) because I am a freshman and I am on a meal plan,” Wilson said. “I felt passionate about a lot of these things that I wanted to see a change in.”

As head of the dining committee, Wilson said it is her job to meet every week with the committee to discuss student concerns.

Through the creation of the dining committee, Wilson said she and her committee were able to work with David Joseph, the executive director of Auxiliary Services. He said he sees this as an opportunity for the student senate to work with the preexisting Dining Services Student Board of Directors, whose job is to give feedback on meal plans, programs, events and services.

“The biggest concern we have heard from students is health,” Wilson said. “It’s about quality over quantity.”

She said she has met many students who have expressed concerns about the cost of meal plans, as well. For example, it requires at least two meal swipes to eat at Upper Court – which is home to several retail dining stations – whereas it only takes one swipe to eat at Lower Court and Rathbone, the “All You Care to Eat” facilities.

While the dining committee said it has been approached by students regarding issues with dining services, Joseph said he has heard very few complaints other than concerns from students regarding the cost of catering, as well as the limited dining hall hours.

He said that there will occasionally be a student athlete who does not get back from practice until 8 p.m. and doesn’t have an on-campus dining option. While Auxiliary Services is working toward coming up with a solution, Joseph said it would mean an increase in the meal plan cost due to keeping the halls open later.

“This is something we are very concerned with,” Joseph said. “We will be discussing (it) with Sodexo as we move forward.”

These issues are at the forefront for the dining committee, as it strives to work together with the student body and administration to explore different dining options. It starts with maintaining relationships and broadening the lines of communication among Sodexo, administration and students, Wilson said.

Joseph said he believes the relationship between Lehigh and Sodexo has remained strong through the additions of various dining options over the years. These additions have included “Simple Servings” (allergy-sensitive) stations in dining halls, improvements in concessions at the sports arenas, the Fairchild-Martindale library café, and two food trucks on campus.

Joseph said dining service initiatives will not stop there. An international cafe will be built into Williams Hall this summer, and the university is in the beginning phases of installing a café in Iacocca Hall.

Wilson said the committee senses some hostility between Sodexo and Lehigh students due to an alleged lack of communication. Fixing the disconnect between Sodexo, administration and Lehigh students is the intent of the committee, Wilson said, and the committee aims to create a more cohesive relationship.

While students feel that there is a difference of opinions, Joseph said he does not see strained relationships between students and Sodexo.

Joseph said that for many people, the food becomes secondary to the friendships the employees and students form, like with Jeanne, also known as “The Crepe Lady.”

“She has a following of students and takes an interest in their lives,” he said. “How she connects with students and what she does is special.”

Joseph said Sodexo workers have great relationships with students and take pride in working at such a prestigious university as Lehigh.

“The greeters/cashiers at Rathbone, for example, know more about most students than many faculty and staff,” Joseph said. “They help make students feel comfortable and cared for. In my mind there isn’t anything more important than that.”

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