Dining operations navigate uncertainty, closures in the midst of Pro-Palestinian protests and counterprotests

The final weeks of this school year have been turbulent at dozens of college campuses across the country, driven by differing views of the Israel-Hamas war.
Columbia University
At least six Columbia Dining locations are closed as of May 2. | Photo: Shutterstock.

As pro-Palestinian protests have led to escalating violence, hundreds of arrests and disruption of classes on dozens of college campuses across the country, that has meant foodservice operations have been affected as well.

Columbia University is seen as the epicenter for this wave of college protests, with a crescendo of Hamilton Hall being barricaded with vending machines and sofas earlier this week. Columbia Dining did not respond immediately to a request for comment, but the Columbia Dining website (updated May 2), announced, “In light of campus access restrictions, the following locations are open only to residents of Hartley, Wallach, John, Jay, Furnald, East Campus and Wien,” then listing the John Jay Dining Hall, Fac Shack and JJ’s Place. Other dining hall holders were instructed to dine at Grace Dodge Dining Hall, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and encouraged to use their Flex dollars at off-campus locations and for online food delivery, including Ban Ban Shop on Broadway, DIG Seasonal Market, H Mart, Just Salad, Panda Express, Shake Shack, Joe Coffee at Columbia Business School and others.

As of May 2, at least six dining locations were closed, according to the campus dining website, including Ferris Booth Commons, Faculty House, Butler Blue Java, Chef Mike’s Sub Shop and Chef Don’s Pizza Pi.

FIELDTRIP, another off-campus location that accepts Columbia dining flex dollars, this week issued a statement that reads: “Dear Columbia University Professors and Students, We hope this post finds you well during these challenging times. We understand the difficulties you may be facing with the closure of cafes and limited food options on campus. We at FIELDTRIP want to be your solution…As the semester nears its end, we understand the importance of keeping your minds sharp and your bellies full...” If students show their Columbia ID, they can get a bowl for $10 and flex dollars are also accepted.

At the beginning of the week, the New York Post interviewed Columbia students who said they had been turned away from dining locations.

Several universities are blaming outside people for escalation and violence. New York University (NYU) president told The Wall Street Journal that of 133 people arrested there on April 22, 68 weren’t current students, faculty or staff. Tulane told The Wall Street Journal that the  “overwhelming majority of the protesters were outsiders.”

This week at UCLA, Chancellor Gene Block shared a message calling an attack on a protest encampment by a group of instigators “appalling” and “utterly unacceptable.” The message continued, “It has shaken our campus to its core and –adding to other abhorrent incidents that we have witnessed and that have circulated on social media over the past several days—further damaged our community’s sense of security.”

UCLA Dining Services’ web page state that the all-you-care-to-eat residential restaurants are open only to those living in residential halls, and that “our residential locations will be open based on university need, capacity and location configurations.”

A 20-year-old sophomore at UCLA who has been at the pro-Palestinian encampment told The Wall Street Journal that conflicts with counterprotesters have gotten more violent and, “It’s been escalating and escalating.”

The Wall Street Journal also reported that Brown and Northwestern universities have reached agreements with protesters to clear their encampments in exchange for discussions with university leaders, and Yale University reports protesters have left encampments after the threat of suspensions and arrests.

NACUFS has been in touch with several college dining teams, and NACUFS President and CEO Robert Nelson found that while a few reported operational disruptions, "most dining services on affected campuses remain open and functional," he says, adding that campus dining operations can be a force for good during challenging times.

"Dining professionals understand their vital role in maintaining normalcy and continuity within campus communities," Nelson says. "More than just providing meals, dining halls serve as central gathering places that promote inclusivity and unity. During these times of heightened emotions and diverse viewpoints, dining halls strive to be safe, respectful spaces that encourage constructive dialogue and cultural exchange over shared meals. As we navigate these challenges, the well-being and success of our students remain the priority for campus dining leaders. By fostering peaceful interactions and celebrating diversity, dining teams aim to contribute positively to campus environments and support students in every way possible.”



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