Etta’s Cafe future still in doubt

Student concern leads to petition, reconsideration of plans to close

| Senior News Editor

Following widespread student complaints about the closing of Etta’s Cafe, the eatery will likely remain open for the fall 2017 semester while administration settles on a permanent solution, Dean of the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts Carmon Colangelo told student leaders in a meeting Thursday.

In an email sent Friday, April 7, Washington University administrators announced the original decision to close Etta’s, which primarily serves students in the Sam Fox School, due to financial constraints. The decision sparked immediate outrage among many in the school, and on April 10, Sam Fox alumni Brandon Pogrob and Erin Woo launched a petition demanding that administrators “keep Etta’s open or provide a replacement that offers the same level of service.” By April 14, the petition had 590 signatures.

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In response to the outcry, Colangelo sent two follow-up emails, the first on April 8 and the second on April 12, promising to engage student leaders in an active discussion aimed at finding a solution. These plans came to fruition Thursday, when Colangelo and other administrators met with various Sam Fox student leaders to discuss ways forward.

Among these student leaders was junior Jojo Yee, president of the Architecture School Council, who noted that the discussions made clear that the most likely option is for Etta’s to remain open for at least one more semester.

“I can’t confirm that [Etta’s] will be open in the fall, but it’s probably 95 percent sure to be open next semester,” she said.

Despite these plans, the long-term future of the cafe remains up in the air.

“Obviously, we hope that [Etta’s] could stay open past another semester, but the issue is that [the costs of operation] are coming out of the Sam Fox School’s budget,” Yee said. “The Sam Fox School just doesn’t have enough money to sustain it, so if next semester were to go well, with sales increasing, then obviously it’s more likely that it would continue to stay open.”

In an attempt to potentially boost these sales, the cafe will consider adding new food options and changing its hours—both changes being aimed toward maximizing profits.

Despite these talks of compromise, many students both within the Sam Fox School and elsewhere—including Arts and Sciences sophomore Luisa Castaneda Cano, who signed Pogrob and Woo’s petition—worry about the potential outcome and hope to see Etta’s remain open.

“I signed the petition because I care about other Wash. U. students, and I want to see them succeed,” she said. “Sam Fox students are some of hardest working people that I know, and it’s not fair that the school [might] take away their only available food source. By taking away Etta’s because it’s not ‘cost effective’ in the administration’s eyes, they prioritize monetary gains over the mental and physical well-being of their students.”

Sam Fox freshman Noah Trevino, who also signed the petition, noted that Etta’s may be made redundant by May 2019, when the expansion of the East End of campus—which includes plans for a new facility with dining options—is scheduled to be completed.

“Closing Etta’s would make more sense at the completion of the East End developments on campus because they are adding a new dining facility. But until then, it doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “Clearly, they are aware dining options are lacking on that end of campus as well or else the new construction wouldn’t include a new dining facility—how is this a good solution for the time being?”

In addition to its call to action, the petition itself, titled “The Starving Artist’s Meal Plan,” features an explanation of why the pair of alumni feel so passionately that Etta’s is necessary to the school.

“While we acknowledge that the administration works hard to keep the school solvent, we also find it careless to remove the only reasonable source of food for Sam Fox students,” the petition reads. “Isn’t nutrition an important aspect of student programming? Do we want to build up our artists and architects? Can we make student experiences a part of decision making sooner? We are aware administration regrets not having any student input initially. But we ask you deans and directors, is this the best you can do?”

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