OPINION | Campus, community better served by local businesses

Abe Messing, Staff Writer

Gabe Darley | Senior Staff Artist

Tulane’s presence in the greater New Orleans community is constantly being evaluated, and for good reason. Despite being here for almost 200 years, its student body is still perennially homogeneous in a way that contrasts awkwardly with long-time New Orleans residents. Granted, Tulane makes a concerted effort to blend into New Orleans by “giving back” with its community service initiatives, which is great, but should not be thought of as a score-settler by any means. Tulane needs to always be looking for ways to improve and contribute to the city that is permissive of its monolithic existence. Pivoting away from corporate partners in favor of local businesses is one of the most impactful ways to do this. 

Of course, this is difficult to do in one fell swoop due to the scale at which Tulane operates. Tulane’s needs are many, and local alternative businesses won’t always be equipped to deal with the workload. Companies like Sodexo, in the case of dining choices, are consequently enlisted to meet these needs and are then able expand their influence on campus ad nauseum. Tulane benefits from the convenience that Sodexo provides, but at the expense of a less culturally rich campus. Expelling, or at least minimizing, the involvement of mega-conglomerates such as Sodexo in students’ lives would cost Tulanians some of the comforts they’re used to as well but would give them more variety, freedom and exposure to authenticity. 

Right now, students are obligated to choose a meal plan for their freshman and sophomore years, as well as being cornered into choosing a Sodexo-affiliated option for nearly all on-campus dining. If the emphasis on meal plans and the ubiquity of Sodexo franchises were reduced and replaced with fledgling New Orleans ventures instead, students would gain a greater sense of independence while helping the city. This is a systematic solution to the grievances community service outreach seeks to combat. It is also Tulane’s partial responsibility to look after the employees that work on its premises, and with Sodexo’s history of indifference towards its workers, a change might be overdue anyway. 

Sodexo is only the most visible of Tulane’s corporate partners, which are generally not easily identifiable. Tulane, like most colleges, has plenty of other commercial contracts. The bookstore in the Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life, as another example, reports to Barnes & Noble, in many ways the Sodexo of bookstores. The service the Tulane Bookstore provides, however, could potentially be done by some local book dealers just as well. There are already about a dozen operating book stores in the New Orleans area that embody the ethos of the city more than Barnes & Noble does or is able to do. 

Designing a Tulane experience that is entirely devoid of corporations is not necessarily feasible or ideal in every instance. But giving priority to local distributors and vendors when hashing out licensing agreements can only serve to further unite the Tulane community with its surroundings. For starters, incremental change can be made by brokering more agreements to use NOLAbuck$ at locations around the metropolitan area of New Orleans. Incentivising student patronage at venues beyond the Tulane bubble that include leisure activities in addition to food would wean students off their dependencies on the amenities provided by corporate partners. 

Tulane also has its own identity to cultivate and preserve. With the greater involvement of corporations on campus, this identity becomes less cohesive. It is advantageous to aspire to be different from other universities — doing so pays dividends with regards to quality of student life, school spirit and moral integrity. Tulane should be ditching corporations and developing long lasting partnerships with regional businesses every chance it gets.