AVI Promises Change After Student Complaints of Long Lines, Empty Shelves


Khadijah Halliday

Over 1,000 students signed a petition against AVI Foodsystems last week, expressing frustration at the long lines among other dining issues, in dining locations such as DeCafé and the Rathskeller.

A student petition that circulated last week calls for the College’s dining partner, AVI Foodsystems, to address student concerns about dining accessibility. The petition highlighted student complaints about a lack of food and workers across dining locations. In the wake of last Thursday’s Dining Committee meeting and Student Senate’s advocacy, AVI has decreased the mandatory minimum weekly hours for student workers and promised further changes.

Some of the major complaints voiced by students included skipping meals due to long lines, finding DeCafé fridges empty, and that the high cost of a single meal swipe does not accurately reflect the amount of food available per swipe. To address these issues, AVI revealed in an Oct. 28 Instagram post that it is reevaluating the Xchange program to ensure that students are provided a substantial meal, offering an entrée, side, and beverage for Meal Xchange, increasing to-go production by 50 percent, increasing to daily vendor deliveries, and that it has hired five new team members and will hire an additional six more next week.

College second-year Maya Yin Fahrer started the petition because she was having trouble managing her work with her eating needs. The petition quickly garnered widespread support, with over 1,200 signatures from students and parents, and many comments expressing support on her social media.

“I started it because I was hungry and I have a lot of jobs on campus,” Yin Fahrer said. “I’m doing a lot this year, and I just can’t do any of [it], because I’m taking so much time to eat. It was definitely self-serving to start. But after getting the response I got — there are people who are close to being hospitalized, who are relapsing into eating disorders, who are physically incapable of standing in line and are therefore skipping meals — the second I started getting comments like that, the tone definitely changed of what it was for.”

AVI, which did not respond to the Review’s requests for comment, stated on its website that its operations have been directly affected by supply chain disruptions, product shortages, and recruitment issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a direct result of the nationwide disruptions and shortages, although this is temporary, our menus are continually being adjusted to reflect inventory and delivery deficits,” the statement reads. “We appreciate your patience and understanding. Please know we are here to serve you.”

The U.S. is currently dealing with what economists are calling the “Great Resignation,” where people across the country are leaving their jobs, thereby causing nationwide labor shortages. In August, the U.S. saw a record number of people leaving the workforce — Oberlin is no exception.

To deal with the shortage of staff, AVI announced that it would decrease its minimum student work requirement from twelve to four hours to encourage more students who cannot commit to a large number of hours to work in dining locations.

Another challenge that AVI is currently facing is the global supply chain disruptions caused by backed-up ports and other logistical issues.

As a result, many students are frustrated to find empty shelves at DeCafé and other dining locations. They brought the concerns directly to the Campus Dining Committee on Thursday, Oct. 21, leading AVI to make changes in their operations. Additionally, Student Senate has taken up the issue and will act as a liaison between the concerned students, the College, and AVI.

“This is a priority on our agenda,” said Darielle Kennedy, president of Student Senate. “We’re getting into action right now, setting up meetings with [Director of Student Life Auxiliary and Special Projects] Wayne Wood and [Resident Director at AVI Foodsystems] Caleb Crandall, who have been willing to work with us. We wanna come up with some actionable steps and wanna come up with some solutions that address these grievances that students have posed about what’s going on with AVI.”

In an Oct. 25 Campus Digest email, Campus Dining Services and AVI thanked the students who attended the Oct. 21 Dining Committee meeting. In response to these concerns, CDS plans to release daily updates that will follow its ongoing improvement process.

In an Oct. 28 Campus Digest, AVI called for students to apply for the paid position of Dining Ambassador, which would entail attending subsequent Dining Committee meetings and facilitating student involvement through social media. An Instagram post on the same day revealed AVI’s ongoing process in improving food accessibility and availability, citing its changes to the Xchange program, increases in vending, and new hires, as well as their existent sustainability commitment and hiring practices.

“I think they have a really good plan,” said Vice President and Dean of Students Karen Goff. “The good part about it is that they immediately, after their conversations with students, began to implement things. … This gives us a real opportunity to look at our practices, to look at dining. AVI is still fairly new to Oberlin and they transitioned during the pandemic and really are working out some of the wrinkles.”

Yet, many students are still concerned with the viability of AVI as the College’s dining partner. In voicing her wariness, Yin Fahrer referred to the Oberlin union-busting of United Auto Workers during the tenure of the College’s previous dining partner, Bon Appétit Management.

“Our hiring of AVI started with union-busting and is now leading to not feeding people,” Yin Fahrer said. “Food is not a luxury; food is a necessity and a lot of people are not getting it. I would make a plea to Oberlin and AVI just to care about their students. I think this is the most hypocritical way that Oberlin could do anything in terms of marketing themselves as a community-oriented college that cares about not only their students, but the entire world. And we can’t even fix food scarcity on our own campus. It’s horrifying.”

In its Oct. 28 post, AVI stated that they have hired 13 full-time UAW members and 12 part-time UAW members. Students who want to express concerns about AVI or other issues can fill out the Student Senate Constituents Survey or they can express their concerns directly to AVI at [email protected] or through its text-a-manager number, 440-577-5304.