Auraria's new policy limits food truck access to campus, and students aren't happy about it
The days of walking out of class and finding a wide array of food trucks to choose from on the Auraria campus are over. Well, not exactly over -- but things have changed. On November 1, a new policy went into effect that limits any gourmet food-truck visits to the Auraria campus to Monday, and also limits the number of trucks that can come in that day.
And some student organizations, which bring the trucks to campus to help raise funds for their causes and events, are not too thrilled with the new policy.
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Food trucks have been on a roll in the Denver area for three years -- but until now, there was no policy in place regulating trucks on campus. The Auraria Higher Education Center decided to create a policy for several reasons, according to Jerry Mason, director of Support Services: "One was to create a specific location for the food trucks so that they did not pose an egress issue or safety risk for student pedestrians," he says. "The other was to create equity and balance among the existing food vendors already on campus. These existing food operations have leases and pay directly back to the campus to keep student fees low and provide scholarship opportunities for students."
The new policy states that food vendors will only be allowed on campus on Mondays, when there is a maximum of four locations alloted them in the Lawrence Way turnaround between St. Cajetan's Center and the King Center. The vendors have to pay a $75 fee to get one of those spots; student organizations or departments can make a reservation for the truck through the Student Activities or Student Life offices. Metropolitan State University Denver, Community College of Denver and University of Colorado Denver will rotate reservation priority on a weekly basis.
AHEC has been discussing the policy since April, and finally decided on it last month. Stephanie Madison, a student at MSU Denver and president of the Social Action Through Art Student Organization, says AHEC didn't consult the student body before making the decision, which she opposes. "A lot of us were upset because we had just found out that week that this policy change was going into place," Madison says. "No one ever told any of the student clubs in April that this was going to be taking place, or got any feedback from the students."
Mason insists that the information was available to students. "The policy change was reported by several of the student newspapers on campus and shared with the three institutions that AHEC serves," he says. "The specific Policy Development & Shared Operations Committee meeting [where] this policy was finalized was open to the public, and students were given the opportunity to voice their opinion at this meeting." There is also student representation on the committee itself, he notes.
But Madison, who attended the meeting, says the students weren't treated fairly. "There was actually a lady yelling at us to get out, that she could no longer listen to us because they have stuff on their agenda," she recalls. "When a couple students did get up, who had prepared speeches to present in front of the boardmembers, half of the table of boardmembers was talking among themselves, reading things, writing stuff down. They were not paying attention. They were not interested in what we had to say at all."
As it stands, student organizations can reserve a spot for food trucks as part of their fundraising efforts and collect 10 percent of the truck's sales for the day. Nathan Stern, co-owner of the Solar Roast truck and a UCD student, thinks it's a great way to raise funds. "College students are really enthusiastic about food trucks in general," he says. "And I think they're excited that we're supporting a student organization and working to make the campus a better place."
But Madison says she's concerned that under the new policy, there will be fewer opportunities for organizations to raise funds. She also thinks it reduces the number of healthy meal options for students. "The food that they supply us on campus is junk food," she complains. "It's not good food. You've got McDonald's and Taco Bell and things like that. A couple small cafes that actually fry up hamburgers and stuff, but it's just not good food. So when the food trucks come on campus and provide better, natural food, students are going to them to eat rather than going to the Tivoli or these small cafes on campus."
Mason says student input is taken into account when selecting food operations on campus. "In addition to healthier fast-food options such as Subway, Einstein Bros Bagels and Alfresco Greens, many of the other food operations on campus have healthy options," he says. "In addition, we recently updated many vending machines on campus that now provide premium, all-natural vending products that promote wellness and social responsibility."
But Stern says those machines don't supply the selection of Venezuelan, Argentinean, Vietnamese and other types of food that the food trucks do, giving students a wider view of the world. "As a student, I really see one of the central purposes of higher education to expose students to other worldviews, other cultures, other ways of life. And food trucks really provide a window into a lot of different cultures," he explains. "I think that's a huge asset to college students, and I think that will be sorely missed."
While Stern agrees that there was a need for a policy, he doesn't agree with the restrictions of this one. "We're more than happy to have a dedicated spot on campus where students know where to find us, but restricting food trucks to only one day a week isn't good for students, because it deprives them of food choices," he says. "While we applaud them for trying to create a policy, we think that they're being too restrictive."
Madison and the Social Action Through Art club are working with student organizations from the three schools on a petition drive. She plans to survey students to find out if they want the food trucks on campus more often, and if she collects enough signatures, she'll deliver the petition to AHEC. The Policy Development & Shared Operations Committee is scheduled to review the policy in May 2013.
For the complete policy, go to MSU Denver's student paper, The Metropolitan.