OPINION: Campus’s Dining Services needs more international and culturally friendly options

In a campus with a good population of international students, food options should strive to support its growing and diverse demographics.


If students were to take a look at SIUE’s current 2018 factbook, published each year, they would find one overarching theme in the student demographics section: the university has a steadily growing international and non-white population — 27.8 percent.


Often, international students hail from cultures that have different dietary customs than those in the United States. For example, many Muslim students need — or prefer — Halal food options on campus; these are meals that are prepared according to traditional Islamic law. For example, a “Muslim person should perform slaughter” and that slaughter should take place away from where pigs are slaughtered, according to the Halal Food Authority.


Luckily students have an option if they’re in need of Halal food. The problem is: they only have one option on campus, as of now. Downstairs in the Morris University Center is Sammiches, which serves Chicken Shawarma to fill up sandwiches.


As the only certified-Halal meal option, this is a step in the right direction for catering to the Muslim population on campus, though more needs to be done.


Students are voicing their opinions as well — it isn’t a small issue, either. Even though they’re an off-campus student, Muslim student and senior pre-dental major Rana Naser, of Youngstown, Ohio, said she eats in the MUC often.


“I feel like those students really struggle because they have to stick with vegetarian meals or they don’t get those hearty meals that they miss — if they live on campus, especially. I’m pretty sure that one meal option they have just started last year; no student should go without having a decent meal,” Naser said.


SIUE markets their meal plan well, requiring students to purchase it for at least their first year on campus if they live in a freshman residence hall. If the school has an increasing number of non-white students from Asia, the Pacific islands and other regions, should on-campus meal options not reflect those changing demographics? Especially if you must have the meal plan as a freshman.


Muslim students aren’t the only disadvantaged group here. Jewish students seem to have a complete lack of Kosher options, and Hindu students don’t have many options for their dietary restrictions either.  


It appears that Dining Services is slowly making strides to make campus more attractive for prospective international and non-white students, though it’s happening slower than it should. Chicken Shawarma being the only Halal option is not acceptable and gets pretty boring after the 20th time.


Students that have diverse dietary needs would surely feel more welcome on campus and even those that do not belong to those in-need groups would be exposed to a much more interesting world of food in the MUC.


The good thing is that the Chicken Shawarma tastes amazing so Dining Services is far from being out of luck.


Dining Services has taken great strides to making the MUC’s food court more acceptable to vegetarian and vegan students, though for religious students and those that are from non-western cultures, they have a bit to go.


Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and other student groups need more options on campus.  


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