Why Harvard Won’t Feed Me: A History of Muslim Students vs. HUDS

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Thought you had it bad with the HUDS strike? Think again.

As Harvard students confront the lack of food options on campus, they may be confronting first hand what it meant to be a Muslim on campus before 2015.

In light of the HUDS strike, students across the campus have raised concerns about about the hygiene, nutritional content and variety of the new dining hall offerings. Yet, Muslim undergraduates before 2015 had to live with such restrictions in Harvard dining halls every single day and meal.

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Muslims are forbidden from eating non-halal meat. Halal simply means permitted or lawful, and refers to meat that has been sourced in observance of Islamic Sharia law. In the Harvard Crimson’s Class of 2019 survey, taken by over 70% of the incoming undergraduates, 2.5% identified as Muslims. Over 70% of the incoming class took the survey.

Before early 2015, halal hot dogs and hamburgers were the only meat-based options for Muslim students in Harvard dining halls besides weekly halal dinners held by the Harvard Islamic society free of charge.

Several concerns were raised time and again: hot dogs and hamburgers are unhealthy, and are not products that can – or should – be consumed everyday. However, the HUDS offerings remained steady because of administrative apathy and the lack of a concentrated student voice.

This changed in early 2015. Now UC President, Shaiba Rather ’17, sent out a survey to Muslim undergraduates in the fall of 2014. The results were alarming: over 70% of the Muslim population on campus took the survey, and the majority wanted healthier protein items. “Many asked why they should have to eat processed foods as protein,” Rather said.

As is the norm for large corporations, an Excel file achieved what verbalized complaints could not. Rather went to the HUDS administrators with the data, and asked about the possibility of serving healthier options like halal grilled chicken at the grill.

After some back-and-forth, Harvard caved in, but not without a trade off. They replaced the existing halal hamburgers and hot dogs with halal grilled chicken, which, today, is the only meat-based option for Muslim undergraduates. Administrators reportedly said that the college would have to bear increased costs with this switch, grilled chicken being more expensive than the previous offerings.

Today, as general student body seeks redressal for the subpar food on offer, it would do well to spare a thought for our Muslim brethren and reflect on issues of access and power at the world’s richest university.

Aditya Agrawal ([email protected]) encourages the continuing questioning of these practices as students demand reform in the administration.