HDH’s mission statement is one that promises quality and professional services, all the while boasting of affordability. But does it really follow up on that, or is it all just an empty promise?
“UC San Diego’s department of Housing Dining Hospitality is dedicated to meeting the needs of our clientele with the highest levels of professionalism, quality and affordability, while operating in a socially and environmentally responsible way.”
This mission statement is highlighted, bolded, and italicized on the HDH website. Set a distance away from all other content, this statement flaunts a very practical and reasonable objective for HDH to follow. But does HDH actually live up to this, or is it all an empty promise?
With UCSD freshmen immediately being greeted by the annual sum of $7,467 to $10,112 for an on-campus housing agreement, HDH’s “promise” to provide quality services for affordable prices is already put into question. On top of this, students are also required to purchase dining plans that range from a minimum of $2740 to $3900 a year. This still doesn’t account for the cost of laundry or maintenance services.
Yet, despite paying a couple hundred more to live on campus, students still seemingly experience several large frustrations. With dryers burning students’ clothing, raw food being served in dining halls, bug infestations merely being vacuumed up rather than dealt with, and fat content in foods soaring, it is no wonder student discontentment with this mega-organization has grown. Such frustration has even spilled over into the Facebook UCSD Meme Page, where images of “chicken sashimi” and flooded washing machines have inundated the page.
This begs the question: For the hefty amount students pay to live at UCSD, is this really fair? Does HDH really listen? Does it even care?
According to Thurgood Marshall College sophomore Damin Curtis, the answer to this is a resounding “no.” Curtis was one of the many people who showed up at the recent HDH open forum that was held in Roger Revelle College. Serving as Director of Food at the Student Sustainability Collective, Curtis brought in a list of five demands — pertaining specifically to dining issues — that summed up student complaints about HDH. For him, the implementation of these demands are the answer to impacting real change, rather than just holding small forums here and there.
“Coming and listening to our complaints is good but it’s not anywhere near far enough where I would like it to be,” Curtis said, “In my mind there is nothing more than a symbolic difference between emailing HDH, having student representatives talk to HDH, [and] having HDH show up at a forum to hear our concerns. All of those things are just a way for HDH to listen to student concerns — which is good. But that doesn’t mean change will actually happen.”
Included in the list of demands are: the freedom to opt out of dining plans, competitive prices in the markets and dining halls, affordable healthy food, complete transparency with the student body, and the creation of a Student Oversight Committee. In fact, Curtis placed special emphasis upon the creation of a Student Oversight Committee, stressing the importance of having student representation in HDH and thus allowing for students to have a voice in major decisions that HDH makes. This Oversight Committee would essentially act as a group of students that would work in HDH, not only voicing student concerns but also having real decision-making power.
“…there is nothing more than a symbolic difference between emailing HDH, having student representatives talk to HDH, [and] having HDH show up at a forum to hear our concerns.”
This is, in some part, in retaliation to the recent Coca-Cola contract that HDH signed earlier this year. The contract ensures that HDH will receive $585,000 yearly in order to sponsor its events and programs, but at the same time, forces market prices to go up slightly by year. For many, the fact that HDH signed this contract without consulting the students — whom it claims to serve wholeheartedly — was the final straw. It showed that HDH did not care about student voices when it came to large-scale decisions.
This idea also feeds into the fact that students are not allowed to opt out of dining plans. Instead of allowing students themselves to have a say in how their money for food is spent, they are forced to purchase multi-thousand-dollar plans, which in turn leads to higher rates of food insecurity and overall frustration. All of this is just so that HDH can have enough money to fund their programs.
“HDH basically said that [it needs] the money to fund [its] programs. We don’t believe that we should be funding HDH programs. If it’s not something that students are choosing to buy or choosing to program, we shouldn’t be paying for it,” Curtis remarked. “We believe student programming should come from organizations where students have a voice … I believe that organizations like student government are better equipped for this because they are inherently designed for student involvement, student voices, student democracy … You should not be mandating money from students because you want the programs to happen. Money for a program — if it’s gonna come from students — should come from students because they chose to pay for an event that shows it is following their needs and desires.”
Comments made by HDH Director Mark Cunningham have only fed more fuel to the flame. In the past, he has called students “lazy” and has even told students to just move off campus if they don’t like the options they are presented with by HDH. Comments such as these are crass and frankly disappointing, further proving how little HDH takes into consideration students’ needs. Many students at UCSD don’t have the option to move off campus, whether that be because of personal or financial reasons. The fact that HDH isn’t willing to accommodate or listen to such students is frustrating to say the very least.
On top of being forced into buying overpriced plans, the fact that HDH food is often of subpar quality makes it even harder for students to be content with the system. Yes, while there are simple mistakes such as the raw chicken (more infamously known as the “chicken sashimi incident”) that was served in Canyon Vista a couple of weeks back, several foods are considered to be highly unhealthy. One of the food items that was most heavily contested in the HDH Forum was the Pines torta, a delicious Mexican sandwich that turns out to be 129 percent of the recommended daily percentage of fat one should consume. Even the kale chicken caesar salad at 64 Degrees is a whopping 7,028 calories — meaning it is a full 5,028 more calories than the recommended daily 2,000. Also, the fact that there are so few healthy vegetarian and vegan alternatives — other than the singular specialty vegan restaurant, Roots — on campus speaks to the fact that the dining plans may not be best for everyone. In addition, the food is probably not helped by the fact that several students have found little bites of “extra protein” or bugs in their dishes.
This does not even begin to touch upon issues students have had with housing — specifically the laundry situation. With machines constantly broken down or in need of maintenance, and HDH not fixing them despite constant calls and requests from students, frustrations have quickly boiled over. As Sixth College student voiced at the forum, “Matthews Apartments is where the issues are. Dryers don’t work and there is no air. It eats your money, [and] sticky notes have been started to be placed by students. It has become socially acceptable to just take clothes out.”
So what can students do to spur change? The answer lies in fostering better communication and transparency between the student body and HDH. But this “communication” should not just take on the form of random forums or sporadically scheduled exchanges, but should offer students a real say and a real way to enforce change.
“I think [the student body has] been doing a fantastic job of organizing themselves through the meme page, rallying support, supporting each others’ critiques of HDH, and showing up to the HDH forum we recently had,” Curtis stated. “The discontent among the students is strong and what students can do is continue to act on this, continue to have the discussion they’ve been having with each other, and most importantly, organize. Join a working group — for example, the food working group at the SSC … Organizing is the most effective thing students can do. Students need to organize their efforts and discontent so that their voice is a single unified voice that HDH has to answer to.”
Does UCSD really care about its students? If one were to look solely at HDH, the current answer would probably be no. Although HDH may not be an evil mega-conglomerate that seeks to exploit its customers, it definitely does not live up to its self-proclaimed mission. If students were to have a real say in their own housing and dining experience, maybe then HDH would begin to change for the better. Change is possible, but only if HDH takes the next step to truly listen.
Art by Michi Sora