When my editor asked me to write a piece on the University of Dallas State Fair, I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough to write on. But I forgot that Aramark would be catering.
Late Friday afternoon, I walked over to the “UD State Fair”, a widely advertised Residence Hall Association (RHA) event, to see what I could learn about this inaugural event. The weather hinted at fall and the atmosphere was lively.
The activities were held on the Tower Field where students — mostly freshmen — had gathered for an array of fair-themed activities. As advertised on the flyers, I saw tug-of-war, pie-eating contests, rock climbing, bungee jumping, a henna stand, a dunk tank and cornhole. The dunk tank was especially popular; staff members, including Director of Student Life Dore Madere and Residence Coordinator James Bogdan, volunteered as tributes to softball-wielding students, who were eager to see them dunked.
“During a planning meeting with Dore [Madere] and Kyle [Wilson], we were throwing ideas around and Kyle had the idea for a state fair themed event and the RHA students loved it,” said residence coordinator April Jecha.
Wilson, Madere and Jecha would later meet with the Dining Services Advisory Committee to discuss Aramark’s presence at this event. The Cafeteria would close at 4 p.m. and Rathskeller [Rat] at 5 p.m. so that staff could cater for the State Fair. Many students know that all clubs and organizations must purchase any food they wish to provide at events directly from Aramark. Groups may provide their own food only if they limit the event to registered club members.
Sophomore Sami Haeick, a soccer player, was at the Dining Services advisory committee meeting and pointed out that athletes whose practice interfered with the State Fair would miss dinner due to these closures. Wilson assured her that all students’ needs would be met. The committee also discussed past lack of vegan options at similar events, and administration promised to rectify the situation.
Aramark has had a rocky relationship with the student body recently. Last semester, students started a petition asking Aramark to keep the Seven-meal plan when Aramark announced that the exclusive meal plan options would be “All Access” plans and that all freshmen and sophomores would be required to purchase them. Students also asked that Aramark improve the quality of food after diners reported being served raw chicken and finding bugs in the food, and that food be available more consistently during operating hours, including outside of “regular” meal times, per the so-called “All-Access” plan.
At the fair, I tried the free cotton candy (there were also free snow-cones) and then asked where I could find the food. I had heard a rumor throughout the day that any student without a meal plan would be required to buy a ticket from Aramark to eat. This rumor proved to be true. I was directed to the Mall, where three tables of food were set up. The tables of food offered chicken, turkey, corn dogs, green beans, mashed potatoes, funnel cake and a garden salad.
Any student who observed meatless Fridays, was vegetarian or had other dietary restrictions was instructed by an inconspicuous sign to ask an Aramark staff member for an accommodation.
The students I spoke with all had similar thoughts: The activities were fun. The food situation had gone awry.
Many students saw the flyers for the event posted throughout campus and assumed that food, like the activities, would be provided for all students, regardless of whether they had meal plans.
And they’re not wrong. If the food at an event isn’t open to students who don’t have meal plans, it shouldn’t be advertised throughout campus with flyers that make no mention of the additional cost.
And despite the promised accommodations, some students on the meal plan didn’t get any dinner at all. Paige Parks, a freshman, was unable to attend the State Fair due to softball practice and headed afterwards to Haggar University Center for dinner only to find the Rat and Café closed. According to the Aramark page on the UD website, the Rat is supposed to be open until 8 p.m. on Fridays and the Café until 7:30 p.m. Advertisements for the Fair did not mention that these options would be unavailable.
This is inexcusable. Parks paid thousands of dollars for a meal plan and when she went to get her dinner after practice, she was — through no fault of her own — forced to miss dinner. She went back to her room and ate applesauce. Would it have been so difficult to staff the Rat — just the Rat! — during and after the state fair?
There is a systemic problem with Aramark. Overpriced meal plans, mediocre food and a monopoly on all food at UD are just some of the issues here. I hope that the administration will continue to work with students to resolve these unfortunate problems.