Cultural Student Organizations Frustrated by New Catering Rule

Loyola student organizations are now expected to cater food for university events through the primary vendor Aramark for the fall 2022 semester which has sparked concerns by some campus organizations about the accessibility of cultural food options and religious dietary needs.

Loyola student organizations are now expected to cater food for university events through the primary vendor Aramark for the fall 2022 semester — the company which runs Loyola Dining — which has sparked concerns by some campus organizations about the accessibility of cultural food options and religious dietary needs. 

Student organization presidents who desire Zabihah Halal options, referring specifically to meat products being produced according to the guidelines of Islam, expressed concern after the Center for Student Engagement (CSE) announced through Zoom on Aug. 23 that Aramark would be the primary provider for on-campus catering requests, according to the CSE meeting. 

The switch to Aramark comes after CSE’s budget coordinator left in July. Before this fall semester, student organization’s were allowed to utilize multiple outside vendors for events. 

Zain Alnobani, the co-president of Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF), said the vacancy of this position is the main reason for the new vendor guidelines. 

“Her spot is voided right now, they don’t have anyone there, and that’s kind of the main driver in all these new rules is that there is not a main person who is taking care of all these transactions” Alnobani said.

Marissa Lucchesi, the director of CSE, said the staffing concerns within her department are being addressed.

“CSE currently has two vacancies in the Department that are dedicated to assisting student organizations with navigating LUC’s purchasing processes.” Lucchesi wrote in an email to The Phoenix. “We are looking forward to filling those positions as soon as possible- as with all CSE full-time positions, students will be included in the hiring process.” 

Pakistani Student Association’s (PSA) President Nabhan Rafiq said the announcement to switch vendors to Aramark was unexpectedly brought up in the Zoom meeting a week before the start of classes.

“That was a shocker, because up until that point we had all been working with local businesses, working with the same vendors,” Rafiq, a senior psychology major, said. “They were all under the impression we would be placing orders within the next couple of weeks for our first events.”

Rameen Awan, president of the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) and Director of Service for PSA, said Aramark provides only general Halal options at Loyola dining halls. She said Zabihah Halal is not guaranteed for any meat provided by the company.

“They were unable to provide us with the appropriate Zabihah Halal certificates,” Awan, a senior majoring in molecular neuroscience, biology and Spanish, said. “They source their ‘Zabihah Halal’ meat from a third-party vendor and wouldn’t disclose who that vendor was.”

Aramark did not respond to questions from The Phoenix regarding concerns raised by students. 

Alnobani, said not having Zabihah Halal options impacted events that were planned for the beginning of the semester.

“We couldn’t host those events because most of the funding we had for those events were food related, and we didn’t want to buy the Aramark food because a lot of the people coming weren’t going to be able to eat it,” Alnobani said. 

Kathyrn Cantrell, the chairperson of the student government of Loyola Chicago (SGLC) said these problems with Aramark resulted in a recent exemption being put in place.

“I have alerted my CSE advisors about the lack of Zabihah-Halal certifications, which indirectly resulted in a select few cultural organizations being given exemptions for two certified vendors,” Cantrell wrote in a statement to The Phoenix. 

The organizations who have received the exemption as of now are: MSA, PSA, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Students Organize for Syria (SOS) and Indian Student Association (ISA), according to Awan.

Awan said organizations were informed about this exemption on Sept. 15. 

Alnobani said his organization requested the exemption but said conflict persists as PCRF didn’t receive the exemption. 

“We feel that it’s unfair that we can provide food for one side and not the other,” Alnobani said referring to the Muslim students apart of PCRF who won’t have equal accessibility to food options. “Most of these obstacles put in our way hinder cultural organizations but also other organizations that are predominately Muslim-identified students.” 

Haaris Malik, president of the Association for Justice in Kashmir (AJK), said his organization was also under the impression that they would receive the exemption. 

“They told us that we will be granted the exemption, and then last minute we found out we were not going to,” Malik said “We are basically being told you guys can either get food or you guys can either stay true to your religion.”

Jannah Abu-Khalil, the president of SJP, confirmed her organization received the exemption but said they will no longer be able to work with several of the Palestinian owned-businesses which they partered with in the past. Abu-Khalil said this is going to possibly hinder the organization’s ties with various restaurants. 

Abu-Khalil also said restrictions on outside vendors ultimately impact all organizations which value working with culturally-authentic businesses. 

“A lot of the vendors they provided are white-owned corporations and businesses,” Abu-Khalil, a junior majoring in political science and criminal justice, said. “We are forced to buy products that rip off our culture, so it’s a huge problem with cultural appropriation.” 

Lucchesi said CSE is communicating with student organizations and will continue to work with them.  

“CSE continues to communicate with student organizations and SGLC regarding their programming needs, and will continue to communicate updates when available,” Lucchesi wrote.

Student organization representatives of MSA, PSA, SOS, PCRF, SJP and AJK said they desire more honest communication from CSE and Loyola moving forward. 

Featured image courtesy of Abhan Rafiq

Fathima Shirazi

Fathima Shirazi