Student petitions for access after accusations of violating UHD contract

Madeline Duncan, Senior news reporter

A UT student started a petition advocating for improved food access after she was reported by a dining hall employee for taking a cup of fruit from Jester City Limits. 

Sociology sophomore Jenna Dillon said she was chased by a University Housing and Dining employee for removing an 8 ounce cup of fruit from the dining hall. After the incident, Dillon said she received a formal accusation from UHD for violating her housing contract. In response, Dillon created a petition to advocate for increased food accessibility for students. 

The petition originally asked for the University to allow students to remove small food items from dining halls, but has since grown to include removing the $7.50 charge for the Eco2Go program, increasing the UT Outpost locations and increasing funding for food pantries for students facing food insecurity. As of Thursday, the petition has received 849 signatures. 

Carlos Gonzalez, a residential assistant at Jester West, said there is some confusion among students about what is okay to remove from dining halls. 

“I think (the list of acceptable food) should be updated,” Gonzalez said. “Make it clear what you expect to be taken out and what not to be taken out.”

Dillon said other UHD employees allowed her and other students to take small items from the dining hall before, so she didn’t stop when she heard a UHD employee ask her to stop.

“There’s a precedent established since they established no food out of the dining hall, which is you can take little small items, like fruit cups, little dessert plates and drinks,” Dillon said. “I walked out of the dining hall and I heard ‘You have to finish that inside,’ but I was like, ‘Oh, you can’t be talking to me because this is acceptable.”’

Dillon said her contract says there is a list of acceptable food items to be removed from the dining hall, but the foods allowed are not listed. 

UHD declined an interview with the Texan to clarify this rule, but Josue Rodriguez, assistant director of marketing and communications for dining, provided the following emailed statement: “Our policy for removing food from the dining halls can be found in the residence hall manual. It states: ‘Meals served in residential dining venues are buffet style; however, no food is permitted to be taken from the residential dining venues unless approved by dining staff.’”

The Eco2Go program requires students to pay $7.50 each meal they take to go, in addition to a dining hall swipe, Dillon said. Prior to the pandemic, the program only required a one-time registration fee of $7.50, according to the UHD website.

“I thought it was really strange that the manual is written to act like there is acceptable food, but then it insinuates that the only acceptable food is paying $7.50 every meal to take your food out,” Dillon said.

Dillon says she pays $6,800 a semester to live in Jester, which includes the unlimited dining plan. 

“A cup of cantaloupe at the cafes are $7 versus the free one you could get because you paid $6,000 to live here,” Dillon said. “If they refuse to let us take food out of the dining hall, (they should) establish outposts in every residence hall.”