Students protest Aramark, Residential Life requirements

Staff Reports

A small group of students stood on the west side of The Union on Wednesday, protesting dining and housing requirements on South Dakota State’s campus.

Protesters held up a simple white sign saying “STOP Sucking Us Dry!!” Underneath these words they had written three things they stood for:

-No more mandatory housing for freshmen and sophomore students

-No more mandatory meal plans

-No more Aramark monopoly

Luke McCullough, senior at SDSU majoring in English and French Studies, was one of the main organizers of the protest. He said he has more loans because of the requirement to live on campus the first two years and the mandatory meal plan.

McCullough hopes the protests will reveal an underlying discontent students have with Aramark and Residential Life on campus.

“Realistically, I know it won’t be an end to mandatory housing and mandatory meal [plans],” McCullough said. “I’m hoping that it will encourage students to protest more often.”

It is a requirement at all six institutions within the South Dakota Board of Regents for students to live on campus during their first two years of school, according to Jeff Hale, the director of Residential Life.

“From my standpoint, I won’t speak for the Board, it’s to enhance the opportunity for students to be successful,” Hale said. “It also adds vibrancy to the campus because when students are together there’s more excitement, there’s more interaction, there’s more connection.”

Thinking he might not be the only student dissatisfied with these requirements, McCullough created a Facebook event and encouraged other students to stand with him. He treated it as an experiment, McCullough said.

In his facebook post, McCullough wrote that the goals of the protest were to challenge administration to make choices that benefit students and pave the way for more student activism at SDSU.

When a student does not want to live on campus during their first two years, Hale said they meet individually with the student. If there is a reason to grant an exemption, they will consider it.

Some reasons to grant exemptions include:

  • Students whose home is a 30 minute radius from campus

  • Students who have a dependent child or adult

  • Excessive financial considerations and hardships

“Some students have indicated that they don’t like the requirement, so we are working with our faculty colleagues as well as our student affairs colleagues, as well as taking a look at our own outcomes to make sure that living on campus is as attractive [for] students as we can make it,” Hale said.

Doug Wermedal, the interim vice president for student affairs, has worked at five different campuses in his career and all of them had a required plan for meals and residential housing.

In regards to costs, Wermedal said he is very sensitive to the financial matters.

“We work hard to make sure the finances are appropriate and when they’re not, when there is real, financial hardship, we respond to that,” Wermedal said.

Within the SDBOR, all campuses are required to have a meal plan for the freshmen and sophomore students. SDSU, however, is competitive with the six other schools, landing in the middle of costliness. Dakota State University is the cheapest while Northern State University is the most costly.

A large portion to the money students pay in their meal plans go back into “campus reinvestment,” according to Wermedal. This includes Aramark being the number one student employer on campus, as well as providing more than $400,000 in scholarships.

Wermedal said studies have shown that meal plans for on-campus students are positively associated with graduation, the amount of time to obtain a degree and greater overall satisfaction.

Complaining about these measures are common, he said. Other common complaints include financial aid and parking.

“It’s not necessarily an assessment of the program or the personnel delivering it,” Wermedal said. “It’s a measure of how an individual is responding to the services offered to them.”

Wermedal said the university can’t meet every single demand of students, but must see to the entire student population.

“We have to try to design a plan that responds to the needs of most students,” Wermedal said. “And in responding to the needs of most students, you will most certainly be not responding to some students.”

McCullough said he wanted to bring together devoted students, including Students’ Association senators, who want to create change. He hopes it could lead to a formal measure or even a debate, McCullough said.

Iris Le, an SA senator and nursing major on campus, stood by protesters. She agreed that some of the requirements from Aramark and Residential Life were unfair.

“We need more choices on campus,” Le said in regards to the diversity of food options.

Le was a vegetarian while she lived on campus and she said there were limited options for her.

Wermedal said students can request a meal plan to adjust to their religion, diet, medical needs or financial reasons.

“I’m not questioning the integrity of the individuals protesting—I’m just saying that if you walk through the door of 312 Admin you’re probably going to find what you want,” Wermedal said.