Letter to the editor – Students Voice in NEIU Campus Dining Experience

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Many students know what it feels like to have an empty stomach or to have their last few dollars in their wallet or bank account to spend on a snack or a small meal to hold them over until class that day.

The Aramark contract was signed over the university’s winter break and made effective the start of the school year 2013 in January. Many believe that students do not have a say in what they would like to change for the better in the cafeteria. The university has a student union advisory committee in charge of being a part of the process in making improvements and meeting the needs and wants of students to better their university dining experience.

Even though Special education major Jessica Morgan is on campus three times a week, she only eats at the cafeteria once a month simply because it is convenient and easy to access. The opinion of students in terms of the prices of the food varies. For Esosa Ogbomo, president of the NEIU chapter of the Society of Physics Students, the price range is perfect for students and the customer service is good but the hours of operation are inconvenient. Students have noticed an improvement in the food selection over the past couple of years, yet they still believe that for a diverse and multicultural campus, they do not offer enough ethnic dishes and a few have mentioned that to them, “I find the ethnic food to be a joke.” Many students have suggested opening a Kosher or Zabiha halal section even if it means bringing in prepackaged foods. The diverse community on campus can be incorporated to the university cafeteria.

In today’s society, the word diet comes with a variety of definitions. Some may ask you what the first three letters of diet is, “d-i-e” while others say that they associate the word diet with “the different types of foods that somebody eats,” or the “diversity of different foods.”

The salad bar is a big hit with many students for several reasons. The great part about a salad bar is not only do you have options, but it is nutritious. The downside to the salad bar is that it is closed by 3pm. The pre-packaged foods are not within a price range that students are comfortable with and are given names such as “Tunarama” which to a communication, media and theatre major, Max, sounded like leftover tuna.

The water button in the cafeteria has been removed and students can no longer purchase a cup for $0.35 just so they could quench their thirst on something less sugary that will not make them thirstier. Also, other schools such as UIC, provide nutritional information by illustrating the calorie, fat and carbohydrate information to students. If Northeastern claims to be a nutritious, why don’t we have information such as calories, fat, sugar sodium and cholesterol content listed about the food that is served and students would be able to keep track what is in their foods.

Northeastern Illinois University’s cafeteria is a difficult client for Aramark because Monday through Thursday, the cafeteria’s busiest hours are between 11 and 3 p.m. By 3 p.m., only some of the restaurants such Subway and the new pizza place are open. For graduate students, the only options are to attend night classes which work out conveniently if they have a day job, but if they are hungry after a long day of work and don’t have a lot of time to stop and get something on the way, they are pretty much out of luck. Late hours in the cafeteria are inexistent. Most night students rely on becks book store and would prefer to grab a snack for a low price. On the flip side, early morning students would like to see more fresh breakfast options such as an omelet station.

If the cafeteria could find a way to market itself better and take students opinions into consideration and then implement those considerations and make them actionable, students will finally be able to say that they would prefer to eat on campus not only because it is convenient, but because they enjoy the food, the experience and find it to be a good meeting place to socialize or study.

A student who has chosen to remain anonymous stated “The cafeteria needs a dollar menu.” Meal plans is another suggestion made by students who have interest in eating on campus. While the employees are efficient and provide exceptional customer service, students need an environment such as the cafeteria to grab something to eat at their convenience along with a variety and fair prices to make it as comfortable for them as possible.

Dr. Frank Ross, Vice President for Student Life, has and continues to actively research what the students want and are looking for in their dining options and experience at the university. “They serve more of a variety, like pizza and hot dogs.” For instance, students wanted to see pizza in the cafeteria and those needs have been fulfilled. Dr. Ross is extremely concerned with the needs of the students in all aspects of student life on campus.

Students should and do have a say in the catering options offered to the university. This is a difficult task for the university especially because the cafeteria is not busy a lot of the time and therefore makes NEIU’s campus a difficult client yet there are ways to give the cafeteria a different experience for students than in past years.

The food service committee is in progress and encourages students to be a part of improving campus dining for everyone who attends NEIU. It is the job of the committee to be involved in the process, find out what is missing, and what changed need to be done.

Should students have a say in where their tuition goes involving the food that they eat? The answer is yes and there are resources students can utilize and look into. A food committee is currently being put together in order to allow students to be in the know about what is going on with the cafeteria. Students of this committee will be able to raise their concerns and be a voice for the entire student body.

Iliana Ostro