Incoming DUSDAC chairs talk dining during constructionJunior Gregory LaHood and sophomore Brian Taylor were selected Monday as co-chairs of the Duke University Student Dining Advisory Committee for the upcoming school year. The Chronicle's Sasha Zients spoke to the pair about their plans for the committee next year in a time of renovation and change, as well as their passion for dining.
The Chronicle: What was your platform running for co-chair?
Gregory LaHood: My platform in the co-chair election was centered on my commitment to improving the relationship between DUSDAC and campus vendors. The plan I set forth for accomplishing this was to carve out time in each meeting where members could voice their concerns about any specific issues they encountered while dining on campus. Though we have done this periodically in the past, I ran on the platform of making it a more regular occurrence because of the way in which the contact member for each vendor could use something that is said during these discussions to initiate a conversation with that vendor. While each member has always been tasked with communicating with a group of three to four vendors, I essentially ran on a commitment to make these relationships stronger while improving the campus dining experience of students, faculty, staff and visitors.
It has become very apparent that on-campus vendors are often unaware of things that they are doing “wrong,” but eager to tweak their models in order to please their student customers. This was evidenced by the Penn Pavilion, as Duke Dining Director Robert Coffey used feedback provided by the committee as well as posters on the fantastic Fix My Campus Facebook page in order to add options to the salad bar, improve the rice at the Cilantro station and, among other things, bring back the Mango Drink offered through Sitar. I essentially took the position that the committee should focus more attention on these sorts of projects next year. I also pointed to my experience as the leader of the East and Central Campus sub-committee this past year as well as my commitment to the success and growth of Duke Dining.
Brian Taylor: it comes down to using my experience serving on DUSDAC over the last two years as well as managing a restaurant in high school? to try to address student concerns and improve dining. Specifically, I want to focus on revamping the [Merchants-on-Points] lineup to serve as a short-term solution and play an active role in the West Union vendor selection process to address many of the underlying issues that students have with campus dining.
TC: What are your specific plans for DUSDAC next year?
GL: The primary component of my future plan for DUSDAC is represented by my platform. However, I’d also like to try and attract more people with dietary restrictions to apply to be on the committee because I think that they offer an extremely valuable perspective to our conversations regarding on-campus dining. Additionally, I’d like to see the nutritionist who attends each of our meetings play a larger role in our discussions and potentially help the committee put together a flyer or web graphic that highlights some of the healthiest options on campus. Finally, I’d be interested in the committee holding a town-hall meeting of sorts much like that which was held for the West Union a few weeks ago. I get the impression that a lot of students feel as though their voices are not heard by Duke Dining and the committee as a whole and I think that such a meeting would be a great opportunity for a group of concerned students, faculty, etc. to learn a bit more about DUSDAC’s function on campus.
BT: Duke Dining is at a critical threshold as the new West Union begins to take shape, and I hope to serve as the student voice in that process to make sure that the concerns that have been raised over the last two years are addressed. The University has asked the current student body to put up with a lot in terms of limited options and food quality in the name of future gains, so I want to make sure that promise is fulfilled and the new West Union is the best it can possibly be. Additionally, I hope to continue the steps taken by the previous co-chairs to increase transparency within Duke Dining and open up our organization to outside opinions, feedback and criticism. Lastly, as I mentioned previously, I want to continue our process of revamping the MOP lineup as a means of bridging the gap to the reopening of West Union.
TC: Why did you join DUSDAC? Why are you interested in dining on campus?
GL: I joined DUSDAC because as I was walking through the Student Activities Fair during the Fall of my sophomore year, I heard a voice say: “Do you like food?” I immediately stopped, explained that love was a better term for my relationship with food and signed up for their email list. In all seriousness, though, I was not even sure what the committee did when I interviewed and eventually was accepted.... However, I knew for a fact that I was passionate about food and interested in making the on-campus dining experience of myself and my peers the best it could possibly be. I’m interested in dining on campus because I’m both a huge foodie and a value-conscious eater. So while the foodie in me wanted to keep my taste buds happy, the other side of me was interested in ensuring that relatively affordable options on campus would be here to stay. I’m happy with how things have turned out on both fronts.
While students often express dismay over the loss of some of the better values on campus with the closure of the West Union, I want to take this opportunity to point them to the Stacks station at the Penn Pavilion where you get a footlong sub that is more substantial than those from Subway, as well as a pickle and a drink, for a comparable price. Similarly, I’m extremely happy with the gastronomical experiences that are offered by our food truck selections. I often tell my peers that my participation with DUSDAC has been a highlight of my college career and I think that I have had such a great experience because my position has enabled me to carve an hour out of each week in order to talk about a topic I love.
BT: I joined DUSDAC at the start of my freshman year because I love food and want to play an active role in shaping the on campus food scene. In high school I worked in a local restaurant near my house and had the opportunity to manage it during my junior and senior year of high school before coming to Duke. As a result, I am very interested in the realm of food service and feel that my background gives me a unique perspective and voice on the committee as I am not only able to speak as a student, but also as a former food service employee.
TC: What would you like the student body to know about DUSDAC?
GL: I would like the student body to know that DUSDAC and Duke Dining are truly committed to pleasing them. We are not some sort of secret club who laughs maniacally every week over ongoing distress regarding a lack of Chick-fil-A on campus. Current co-chairs Chris [Taylor] and Caiti [Slattery] opened up the meetings to The Chronicle this year in order to try and make our commitment to student satisfaction more apparent. I’m hoping that the town hall meeting idea mentioned above will come to fruition in order to take this initiative of transparency to the next level. Finally, I want everyone to know that DUSDAC accepts new members every year and would love to see more people submit applications at the beginning of next year.
BT: I would most like the student body to know that as chaotic as the dining scene has been over the last year, we truly do have students best interests at heart. Our committee is formed up of students, and we are blessed with the chance to work closely with vendors as well as Robert Coffey, the Director of Duke Dining. Robert is an extremely hard working man who is trying every day to improve the dining scene and is very responsive to student opinion. Ultimately, we are all trying our hardest to make do with a far less than ideal situation due to the construction and balance the desire for future improvement with the needs of current students. Lastly, I would encourage students to remember that there are a lot of forces at work and that there are many factors that go into every decision made by the administration about dining.
Correction: in a previous version of this article, The Chronicle referred to Caiti Cristante as a current co-chair of DUSDAC. She is a member of the committee, not a co-chair. Caiti Slattery is the current co-chair. The Chronicle regrets the error.