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Letter to the editor: an open letter regarding The Lion’s Pause


An open letter to the St. Olaf Community:


Over the past six months, a small team at the college including Steve Lindley, Brandon Cash, and Dean Medley, among others, planned for Bon Appétit — the college’s for-profit food services provider — to take over the Pause Kitchen in an important effort to reduce the overcrowding in Stav Hall and expand food options on campus. In the process, the team almost entirely excluded student voices from the conversation, and their final plan had an alarming number of major issues. 


Firstly, they appeared not to value the Pause in any way. They repeatedly referred to the Pause as a “vibe” and a “legacy.” The Pause is more than that. It is an operating small business that has been successfully student-run for over 50 years. It is one of the few truly student-led spaces on campus, and it provides affordable food to students. The Pause Kitchen is at the core of the Pause space, not an accessory.


Secondly, the plan included no specifics about how meal swipes would work at a Bon Appétit-run Pause or how the college would have safeguarded against price gouging. Students on the St. Olaf meal plan pay about $11 per meal. If we select a partial meal plan, we receive about $2.70 in Flex Dollars to replace the lost meal. Cage prices have risen 30% in the past two years — compared to 16% food price inflation in the same time frame — yet we receive the same number of Flex Dollars — an effective decrease of 23%. Bon Appétit is a part of Compass Group PLC, a company which reported an after-tax profit of $1.67 billion USD last year, according to their financial reports. The only way to counteract their profit motive is close supervision. I have had a few private conversations with people in administration, and it seems that there is no formal system in place to supervise Bon Appétit.  If the college is not scrutinizing Bon Appétit now, why should we expect it in the future?


Thirdly, this plan took shape without any significant student input. The team claimed that student leadership was involved throughout the process. What actually happened, it turns out, is that Pause Leadership was simply told what would happen or invited to meetings with such short notice that they could not attend. Furthermore, the community forum was seemingly an afterthought. When asked why students received notice about a hugely important feedback opportunity only 30 hours before it occurred, the team answered that it was on the previous Thursday, Feb. 15, that they had first considered having a public forum for a project that, at that point, planned on a March 1 decision! Despite this short notice, approximately 400 students showed up to the community conversation, and not a single person spoke in favor of the change over the hour and a half meeting.


Handing the Pause kitchen to Bon Appétit would have destroyed a vital student organization, decreased student access to affordable food, and further damaged the student-administration relationship. This decision process feels representative of a larger issue at St. Olaf College: students do not feel heard. I don’t think students should get to vote on how the college is run, but we should have a seat at the table. A reorganization of how food is provided to students is not a problem that can be solved with a six-month long side project.


Something is wrong with food service at St. Olaf, so let’s actually fix it. Instead of attempting to put out fires as they arise, we should have an intentional and inclusive discussion about it. The standing Dining Advisory Committee that the college plans to establish is a step in the right direction, and I am cautiously optimistic that this will be the first step in repairing the student-administration relationship. I urge the members of the newly established committee to uphold their promise of open and regular communication. I also commend the college on choosing to bring in an external consultant.


However, we cannot be complacent. Just as it is the college’s responsibility to establish spaces for student input, it is our responsibility to reach out and take full advantage of those spaces. The past weeks have proved that students care deeply about both feeling heard and helping to shape the future of dining on the hill. I ask that students stay engaged with this process beyond the end of the week. 


Thank you to everyone who fought to protect a vital student space, and thank you in advance to everyone who will contribute to the discussion in the coming months and years.


      With hope and gratitude,

      Tarkel Price

      Feb. 28, 2024

Tarkel Price is from Seattle, Wash. 

His majors are German and political science.

Tarkel Price
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