The UW student population is a victim of benevolence of Housing and Food Services (HFS), to borrow from Sinclair Lewis.
HFS goes to great lengths to communicate its commitment to student interests and well-being; its mission statement is “working together to enhance student life,” and the first value stated below that is “responsiveness to students.”
My opinion of HFS has grown over the past few months as a result of my involvement with the Student Food Co-op, which is currently negotiating cafe space in the new HUB this fall.
Even so, without any say in what the HFS commitment to students entails, students are effectively disenfranchised. For the short term, HFS comes off as generous, and students as satisfied.
In fact, it’s difficult to see whether or not this commitment actually exists because students have no official say in HFS decisions. Voluntary satisfaction surveys collected from campus housing are the only source of feedback HFS receives from students besides complaints, and HFS is within its liberties to do nothing with them.
Of course, all of this would change if HFS had a student director or council with real influence incorporated into its structure.
Not to belittle the dedicated students of the Residence Hall Student Association; they perform important and useful work, but their role in HFS budget review is purely advisory, and even then, their actions only represent the interests of current residents.
All students of the UW should have recourse for influence in HFS decisions, and the addition of a student director would be invaluable in this goal. Every student on campus, regardless of whether they live in the residence halls or not, has a stake in dining and housing on campus.
The idea would not be one of student control of HFS; some decisions of the housing and food service nature require a significant amount of professional experience and technical training and would not be wisely delegated to a part-time student employee.
Instead, the student director could propose projects and would have a qualified veto power. The director would create input-seeking opportunities, such as town hall–style meetings and email surveys, to give students with concerns or requests a credible outlet.
HFS would need to be responsible for providing the resources necessary for these events as well as assigning an HFS administrator responsibility for communication, coordination, and briefing with the student director.
An objection on their part would cause concern, because if it is truly dedicated to student interests, a well-designed student director position should be a nonissue.
This solution would be a strong avenue for collaboration between the ASUW and HFS in heightening the promotion of student interests on campus.
To win this directorate from HFS, students will need to strongly petition for an increased role. A resolution from ASUW would be a good place to start, and it might be a multi-year battle. It would be worth it, though, because no matter how seemingly benevolent an agent is, without any element of control from the party purported to benefit, that benevolence is meaningless.
Reach opinion writer Ian Cameron at email@example.com.
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