The new West Union Building will be modeled on the upscale Italian food court Eataly located in New York City. Thus, West Union will no longer house national fast food chains, such as Chick-Fil-A and Subway, which will not return to Duke after this year.
Although we understand Duke wants to promote a lively dining atmosphere and sit-down community feel, Eataly is a questionable model for the new West Union as it attracts a decidedly wealthier clientele. The departure of Chick-Fil-A and Subway means that students may have fewer low-cost dining options available to them. The Socioeconomic Diversity Initiative that was released last year revealed that the cost of food is a major consideration for many students when making decisions about where and what to eat on campus. While we support dropping restaurants like Chick-Fil-A for health reasons, there is not necessarily something wrong with all national fast food chains. It seems odd that Johnson has declared all national fast food chains unwelcome in West Union, especially since Au Bon Pain has just opened in the Bryan Center. Healthiness and affordability are the most important considerations when selecting new West Union vendors, and it seems unreasonable to rule out cheap, wholesome options simply because they are chains.
Communication thus far about dining in the new West Union has been insubstantial. We know little about the criteria the administration is using to choose vendors. The administration is currently trying to entice students with attractive, glamorous concepts that recreate an Eataly vibe. However, glamour ought to be a low priority, especially when there are far more pressing concerns such as providing healthful food, low prices and a sense of community. All these goals must be reconciled in the vendor selection process. Duke’s goal, moving forward, should be to minimize the tradeoff between cost and nutrition. Given the absence of Chick-Fil-A and Subway in the new West Union, extra consideration must be given to affordability, whether through more thoughtful ingredient sourcing or taking a smaller cut of vendor profits. The new West Union dining area will not succeed in fostering an environment where all students feel welcome and comfortable if low-income students are highly cost-conscious, which the socioeconomic diversity report suggests they currently are.
The administration needs to ensure dining basics are taken care of before moving onto trivial aspects of this Eataly-esque dining area, such as the cool factor. Furthermore, the administration should communicate clearly to students about its plans, from what exactly constitutes a national fast food chain to vendor selection criteria. DUSDAC should also play a large and vital role in this conversation. Given that a key component of the new West Union is selecting new vendors, this is a critical time for the administration to work with students to create the ideal college dining experience: healthy, affordable and comfortable for all students. West Union renovations present an incredible opportunity to transplant a beating heart in Duke’s campus, a place for all students to enjoy a seamless merging of dining and socializing, regardless of income. If affordability is not prioritized, West Union will fail to be all-inclusive, maintaining or even exacerbating the fractured dining culture.
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