Southern Miss University Housing and Aramark closed the cafeteria in Hillcrest at the beginning of the Fall 2019 semester.
The Real Food on Campus cafeteria was based in Hillcrest, a female-only dorm that is on the edge of the Southern Miss campus. The cafeteria provided Hillcrest residents the option of eating in their own cafeteria instead of walking to the Fresh Food Company cafeteria.
“Last semester, Hillcrest experienced its lowest participation in its history, an average of just 200 meals per day,” Lauren Brescher, the marketing manager for Aramark, said. “We are now able to put more resources into providing additional personalized options in the Fresh Food Company.”
Brescher said the university held focus groups that helped them decide to close the cafeteria.
“While there was no formal announcement regarding the closure of Hillcrest, there were several discussions and student focus groups conducted regarding the closure of Hillcrest and the opening of a new retail dining location, Oath Pizza,” Brescher said.
According to Brescher there was a significant, positive response among students for the idea. However, some Hillcrest students think differently due to both access and security reasons.
“[The closing of the cafeteria] affects me greatly due to the amount of time it takes to walk to the Fresh and when classes end. It was a very positive factor in living in Hillcrest, and it allowed me to assure I got three meals a day,” sophomore biological science major Alaya Cosgrove said.
Allison Smith, a senior psychology major, is one of the students that expressed concerns about security.
“I had people stalking me and trying to follow me to my dorm because it was so far from [the center of] campus,” Smith said. “USM is putting young women at risk because they have to walk so far at night for food when they could have just gone downstairs.”
“I have so far been really disappointed with how [Southern Miss] treat their students. They appeared to be very considerate at first,” junior forensic science major Samantha Cole said. “But now, after spending so much [money] just to come here, it seems like USM does not truly care for the well-being and comfort of their students.”
Despite the decision, one Southern Miss student said she would continue to fight to reopen the Hillcrest cafeteria.
Senior legal studies major Petra Ehlers said she spent the spring and fall semesters of 2019 fighting to keep the cafeteria open by meeting with different Aramark managers, executive director of housing and residence life Scott Blackwell, Ph.D., and Southern Miss Dean Thomas Deus.
“It [the Hillcrest cafeteria] doesn’t just provide us a place to eat,” Ehlers said. “It provides security for us. It provides comfort.”
Ehlers said the Hillcrest cafeteria allowed her and others to eat without stressors.
On Nov. 8, Ehlers met with the Campus Living Committee and Student Government Association Vice President Joshua Williams. Ehlers formally asked SGA to stand behind the students that wanted the Hillcrest cafeteria to reopen.
Williams said although he believes it is an unfortunate situation, the official SGA stance is neutral. SGA, specifically the Senate, will not back Ehlers’ efforts.
“We will look into the security concerns,” Williams said.
Neither Aramark nor the university communications department could be reached for a response to comments and complaints.
This article has been updated to correct the misspelling of Allison Smith’s name and her major.