Rebuttal: “Hawkward Thoughts” on Food Advisory Board don’t reflect reality

Fri, 2017/09/22

On page two of last week’s TechNews, writer Wm. Stefan Herzing presented the fifth installment in his “Hawkward Thoughts” column, a weekly editorial which has covered topics ranging from grammar to gluten in only the first few newspapers of the Fall 2017 semester. Claiming that the time for “pulling [his] punches” was over, Herzing’s most recent piece of writing presented a biting criticism of the academic year’s first meeting of Food Advisory Board (FAB), the official body tasked with communicating student input on campus dining to relevant administrators.

In his column, Herzing presented a view of FAB proceedings that supported a narrative of ineffective student leadership. Focusing primarily on Illinois Tech Dining Services’ announcement that more breakfast foods would soon be integrated into The Commons during lunch and dinner meal periods, he decried the lack of active student government opposition to what he saw as a calculated degradation of regular ingredient quality during those non-breakfast meals. Other topics of note were a move away from serving pork on weekends, which was interpreted as part of a broader push away from ingredient variety. In his own words, Herzing was “blown away that out of everything that the student government ‘accomplished’ at their meeting, half of it actually involved taking away decent, slightly healthy options.”

Sounds concerning, right? The trouble is, Herzing's claims don’t to hold up to scrutiny. He willfully misrepresented the business of FAB to support a doomsday depiction of dining on campus and took pride in his ignorance of the processes behind that group’s work. In reality, FAB is an effective and powerful organ of student leverage, and Herzing’s uninformed proselytizing risks undermining that group’s important work.

The majority of last week’s “Hawkward Thoughts” worked off of the premise that Illinois Tech Dining Services decided to expand breakfast food options during other meal periods in opposition to the best interests of the students who eat in The Commons. This was largely informed by Herzing’s own distaste for the breakfast food served on campus, described in his writings as “greasy potatoes, artificial eggs, paper-thin turkey bacon, and links of cardboard sausages.” If Herzing had any firsthand experience with FAB, he would know that the prospect of expanding breakfast food options to other times of day had consistently been among the most commonly sought dining changes by students who attended those meetings last semester, as well as students who went to the Student Government Association (SGA) and Residence Hall Association (RHA) with suggestions to bring forward in an official capacity.

In fact, Herzing seemed to have little understanding of how decisions are generally driven within the structure of FAB. Every major change to dining discussed during the first FAB meeting had its roots in raw student input. FAB is not a group where students come to be told all about the newest decisions that Illinois Tech Dining Services has made without consulting them; it’s a group where students actively participate in the making of those decisions, and gain insight into the challenges and opportunities within this university’s dining administration. Student leaders at the meeting weren’t giving “a lesson on how to lose a deal”, as Herzing put it; they were advocating on behalf of the students who’ve chosen to express what they want to groups like RHA and SGA. Personally disliking the result does not give Herzing valid grounds to claim that FAB is a sham, nor does it allow him to project his own dining preferences as the law of the land.

What makes this “Hawkward Thoughts” column all the more frustrating, however, is that it moved beyond simply misunderstanding FAB and into territory of blatant misrepresentation. The angry author claimed to base his commentary on TechNews writer Ethan Castro’s coverage of FAB from TechNews Issue 2, but his points conveniently left details out in service of his outrage. While lamenting the switch away from pork-based entrees during weekend meal periods, Herzing omitted the fact that the change was being made in order to provide a greater variety of options to the large portion of Illinois Tech’s student population who have religious restrictions on consumption of pork. He glossed over instances of student input on naan bread and soda being immediately addressed during the meeting, and altogether avoided mention of extended operating hours for The Commons that were established on the basis of FAB’s work in the previous semester. All of this information was in the coverage Herzing used as the source for his commentary. There have been plenty of TechNews opinion articles that have stemmed from innocent ignorance and which didn’t spur a response of the nature of the editorial you are reading. Intentional ignorance, though, is another matter altogether.

That intentional ignorance went beyond the confines of one meeting. In fact, Herzing was downright proud of the fact that he has made no effort to understand student leadership at this university. In his second paragraph, he proclaimed that “you can tell me that ‘oh, [the students at FAB] are from different organizations, like SGA, RHA, FAB, whatever’; I don’t care, it’s all the same to me.” Well, maybe he’s paying attention now. There could be a valid discussion for hours out about the effectiveness with which organizations like SGA and RHA communicate their work and invite open student input, but if Herzing makes no attempt to reciprocate those outreach efforts or attend FAB meetings (which are open to all students), he cannot expect his opinions to be reflected in the Board’s decisions. Sounding off in TechNews is not a solution. The visibility offered by TechNews can be one small part of a solution, but effective student advocacy involves going beyond words. That’s what RHA and SGA are doing.

To reiterate, FAB is and has been a truly impactful organization on this campus. The students who attend FAB meetings are seen by dining staff as conduits of overall student opinion, and the organization is strengthened by every new individual who shows up to a meeting and gives a broader perspective of what students want. If Herzing believes that the current members of FAB have goals that aren’t reflective of the overall goals of the students they represent, inventing a fantasy of power imbalance and student leadership ambivalence to “big, bad Illinois Tech Dining Services” won’t help solve that. Telling students that their voices don’t matter in that room won’t help solve that. To make food and drink better here at Illinois Tech, you have to come to the table.