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SG left with unanswered questions about Champion’s Choice in meeting with USF Dining

Student Government senators and USF Dining held a Q&A-style discussion Tuesday focused on the added fee to meal plans to access Champion’s Choice. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

The saga around Champion’s Choice continues, and Student Government (SG) senators are not yet satisfied with the spoonful of responses provided by USF Dining Services on the reasoning behind charging students an extra fee to access the high-demand dining hall.

The change, USF Dining Services Marketing Director Jessica Cicalese said, was made after the registered dietitian for USF Athletics requested to add some food items to the menus in Champion’s Choice such as açai bowls, smoothies, olive oil-based sauces for the pasta station, an additional protein option and a larger variety of vegetables.

Resident District Manager for USF Dining Services David DiSalvo said that due to these changes on the menu, an $80 additional fee was added to meal plans with access to Champion’s Choice.

“The only change is there are some additions to the menu that were requested by athletics, and some of those additions would be accompanied by a pricing as you would go to a convenience store or somewhere else,” he said.

“The menu that [Champion’s Choice] had previously was produced by the same suppliers produced in the same exact way by the same people across the campus. There was no difference than what is being offered at The Hub right now or anywhere else.”

Concerns around the lack of communication to students about the “plus” meal plans to access Champion’s Choice were also raised during Tuesday night’s meeting. Cicalese said USF Dining wasn’t able to communicate the change until it was approved in the beginning of fall.

“So to be honest, we didn’t even know if we would be opening [Champion’s Choice] or doing this trial. We had to wait on athletics and compliance to make sure everything was copacetic,” Cicalese said.

“We didn’t get that green light until the week classes started. We did set out in our initial communication that this was available for the plus charge.”

The lack of communication was felt from the SG Senate as well, as Senator Michele Olive said some departments were not informed of the change.

“Senator Flores and I met with the leaders of Student Wellness, and one of the departments is the Student Health Services, and that dietitian, as well as board members, were not made aware that choice [of charging extra] was coming,” she said.

“So [USF Dining] has a big push on nutrition, but I think it’s a little unfair that they’re making meal plans and diet plans for these students, and Champion’s Choice has been known to have better nutritional food and better produce, without making them aware. It’s unfair to the students and the people who access the dietitian.”

The uncertainty of whether Champion’s Choice would even be opening for fall prevented USF Dining from speaking further about the change with students, according to DiSalvo.

“​​It was an added amenity, if we were to ask the community ‘Hey, would you like us to offer different food for a dollar a day at Champions Choice,’ we may have heard no,” DiSalvo said.

“Suggesting that we could have communicated that better up front? Fully understood and agreed. Because of the late-breaking information, there wasn’t a ton of opportunity to activate that from a communication standpoint as we would have wished.”

Olive said Cicalese and DiSalvo left her with unanswered questions on who was taken into account when the decision was made.

“When Champion’s Choice came up, they became a little bit defensive, just because the questions were a little deep, and that’s expected,” she said. “They’ve done what they’ve wanted, and they’re going to back it up no matter what, even if it’s wrong. They had an athletic stakeholder present, but who was the stakeholder for the people who cannot afford that extra $80?”

While neither Cicalese nor DiSalvo specified who represented non-student athletes when making the changes to the meal plans, she said all students were taken into account in the decision.

“We wanted to have an option for everyone to have the ability to come in still. I want it to be open to people,” Cicalese said. “So this gives us a way for that to still happen. If you don’t have a meal plan you can still pay the door rate and enjoy it with your friends.”

Without a meal plan, individuals pay $13 to be admitted into Champion’s Choice for lunch. If using dining dollars, students pay $11.

Olive also questioned USF Dining’s statements on the importance of the nutrition of students when they are now being charged additional fees to access those nutritional options.

“You’re saying, ‘We’re adding more menu items that athletics requested,’ but for us to get access to that we have to have $80. That might not seem like a lot, but that’s a lot for some people,” she said. “So it is classist in a sense because if you have that money you get access to better food.”

The change shouldn’t disrupt the student dining experience, DiSalvo said, as most options provided at Champion’s Choice can be found at other dining halls around campus.

“The reality is there are pasta bars available at the other dining halls, and there is every single service that’s available at Champion’s Choice that is available to a meal-plan holder for no additional charge [at the other dining halls],” he said.

“And it’s actually closer to where people want to use the service. The difference is essentially a couple of extra things that athletics has requested that we’ve accommodated. The food and the menus they produce are nearly identical.”

The Senate plans to again meet with USF Dining to continue the conversations around student accessibility to Champion’s Choice. The Senate tabled the discussion and will resume it in the upcoming weeks, with a date and time yet to be announced.

Olive said the conversation will continue until the students’ needs are met and the majority’s demands are heard.

“I hope to see a more correct answer on what they think about Champion’s Choice and the accessibility of it, as well as what this means for the future and pricing for meal plans, because it is expensive being a college student and raising it more just to eat is not fair,” she said.