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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Grub, advice and a ton of notifications: Inside GW’s free food chat

Free food? Try sharing it with hundreds of your closest friends.
Auden Yurman | Senior Photo Editor
The “gwu free food & advice” GroupMe will show you free food around campus and flood your notifications.

Where’s the free pizza? Did that event have any leftovers? Where did the community coordinator drop off the coffee and donuts for their residence hall?

Nearly 1,000 students share a mega group chat in which they post activities with free food, promote their organization’s events and chat about all things GW. The chat, simply named “gwu free food & advice,” offers free food, has a relentless stream of notifications and curates a place where students can share experiences and create a sense of unity.

Nida Chotani, a junior majoring in environmental studies, said she created the free food GroupMe in September 2021, coming up with the idea after going on GW Engage and selecting the free food option in the “perks” filter. After finding events offering free food, Chotani thought it would be useful to create a group chat to tell students where free food is offered on campus and be able to foster relationships by providing a space for students to connect over a common interest.

“I didn’t expect there to be so many people joining,” Chotani said.

A commuter, Chotani chose not to enroll in a meal plan with the University. She said she saves an average of $10 a week, in part due to the GroupMe, where she reads where to nab snacks and desserts from locations across campus like residence halls and Kogan Plaza.

Chotani said the app’s placement on the GW hub in GroupMe, combined with word of mouth among students, were factors in the chat’s rapid growth. She added that as the chat grew, the burden of posting events with food from Engage lifted off of her as others began following suit.

Although originally a group chat about free food, Chotani said she’s glad the identity of the chat has conjoined with advice.

“There’s still the free food aspect, and people always still post about it,” Chotani said. “But I think it’s good that both of them are still implemented. I enjoy people fostering connections and relationships.”

Emmy Ly, a junior and an admin of the chat, said she and Chotani’s main responsibilities involve moderating the discourse on the chat and added that the two are still trying to better handle conflict resolution when out-of-pocket comments arise.

“We’re still trying to get better at it, but in the early stages, we would usually just remove that person if they were causing too much trouble,” Ly said. “But now we’re starting to accept community input because a lot of people means a lot more ideas and a lot more viewpoints. So we’re really trying to take into account what the group wants instead of what we want instead.”

Ly said the two have a “hands off” approach when dealing with issues in the discourse, like ignorant comments, and said the community tends to disengage from inappropriate remarks, causing them not to have to intervene.

“When a lot of people are saying ‘Hey, that wasn’t cool’ then we obviously read the chat and we’re like, ‘Okay, we should probably do something,’” Ly said.

Ly said the chat is resourceful in getting student perspectives on the University’s overall dining situation including their thoughts on the quality of food offered at the dining halls. Ly added that while the chat is for fun, it sometimes gets serious, especially when people are running low on finances.

Ly said a turning point in the group chat occurred around this time last year was when a member’s laptop was broken and others gave them advice on where they could go to fix it. From that point on, Ly said the chat changed from its original name of “gwu free food” to “gwu free food & advice” and members became more engaged and interested in connecting with one another.

Antonia Swad, a junior majoring in psychology and philosophy, said the chat shows students adapting to the new dining plans. She said students have complaints about the University’s adoption of a traditional dining plan, which she said was not what most students wanted.

“I think that people appreciate the options that they did have, and for the same price, they could get more food that they enjoy and more food that fits their dietary restrictions and religious restrictions,” Swad said.

Arianna Iqbal, a sophomore majoring in information systems, said she joined the group chat halfway through the 2023 spring semester. She said she learned about it through a coworker during her shift as an operations assistant on the Mount Vernon Campus.

“When I first joined, I thought it was really nice that there was a community for that at all because who doesn’t love free food,” Iqbal said.

Iqbal said the GroupMe has become more advice-related since she first joined. She said the number of messages can sometimes be annoying, so much so to the point where the vibrations woke her up recently.

“Even though there was a ton of notifications, I also think it’s really nice to see how caring the community at GW is and willing to help each other when we have a space like this that we can all go to,” Iqbal said.

Iqbal said she provides advice to others if she has relevant experience because “what goes around comes around,” and she hopes others will do the same for her if she is in a pickle. She said the group chat has helped her connect with people on campus before going to a meet and greet event for Women in Cybersecurity and feeling welcomed.

“It gives people an ‘in’ to knowing each other, even if they don’t know each other,” Iqbal said. “So it makes GW feel a lot more connected, which I know a lot of people feel like we have a problem with connectedness on our campus, so I think it’s a huge way to go over that problem.”

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