Changes in the SFSS’ food sale policy lacked clarity and transparency

Student groups need clear guidelines and answers in order to do their jobs

Sudden and confusing changes to fundraising protocol has left clubs in uncertainty. Chris Ho/The Peak

By: Naomi Torres, SFU Student

As a student union executive, I’m used to dealing with the day-to-day workings of SFSS policy. Recently, the SFSS sent an email to all student union executive members stating: “Effective immediately, groups will no longer be allowed to sell or hand out perishable food or drink items on campus. This includes but it is not limited to bubble tea and home baked goods.” It continued, “groups may still fundraise using other FDA approved, single-serve, pre-packaged food items, with ingredients listed in English.”

One week later, they sent another email under the subject header “Clarification Regarding Fundraiser Updates.” Since the email began by acknowledging that “it has come to our attention that there are many misunderstandings around the [previous] message,” I expected there to be a clarified list breaking down items that are restricted and allowed. Instead, the majority of the email covered the basic processes on how to book tables, rooms, and spaces through the SFSS and Meeting, Event and Conference Services (MECS). 

Only two points in the clarification email discussed food, which told clubs and student unions to obtain a Fraser Health food permit if fundraisers include food/beverages. 

This lack of clarity by the SFSS is part of a pattern of poor communication with clubs and departmental student unions (DSUs), one that is currently putting small-group funding on campus at risk.

Clubs and DSUs are extremely underfunded by the SFSS. The core and grant funding available to student groups is quickly eaten away by even modest event planning, given how expensive it is to hold events on campus. Core funding in particular is determined by how many students are enrolled in a given department’s classes, or are officially a part of its program. This leaves smaller DSUs perpetually starved for funding. For example, the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Student Union only receives $300 in core funding per semester. By restricting what students can and cannot sell, the SFSS limits the variety of food students can turn to for their fundraising — hurting DSUs’ chances to raise money that would go toward student events and community building.

This decision came out of nowhere and without any input by club or student union executives — though Council later discussed the policy change. The two emails contained broad and generalized statements that provided no clarity to students and only created worry and confusion for student groups who had fundraising dates planned (like the Taiwanese Association, who wanted to host a bubble tea fundraiser, and the Society of Arts and Social Sciences, who planned to sell Krispy Kreme donuts). Though both student groups still continued with their fundraiser, their planning was momentarily disrupted by the SFSS’s sudden restrictions and lack of all transparency. 

And though I do appreciate the SFSS for being cautious of the potential for allergic reactions amongst students, this leaves me wondering where the sudden urge to send these announcements came from. Could it be to prevent the spread of COVID-19? Is it possible that SFU food vendors are complaining that students are taking away their business? Since the SFSS’s “clarifying” email did very little clarifying at all, club and DSU executives have little way of knowing the rationale behind the decision.

As a student union executive, this is frustrating because planning fundraisers is remarkably hard. Passing a motion and deciding exactly what to sell takes time. Students then have to go pick up (or make) the items, book and set their tables, and extensively advertise so folks are aware of what is happening. Furthermore, there is a risk in fundraising. The possibility of not being able to break even or make a profit  is always there.

Still, fundraising is an amazing way to help students groups obtain money without being beholden to the bureaucracy of the SFSS. Now though, the Student Society is making even this difficult for us. We need the SFSS to be clearer and more transparent with us so we can do our jobs efficiently.