New Housing and Food Director: “It’s More Just Than a Place to Eat and Sleep”

hemlata longhorn (2)

Hemlata Jhaveri, who became executive director of UT’s Division of Housing & Food Service earlier this month, now oversees 14 residence halls and 11 dining areas on the Forty Acres. She spoke with the Alcalde about her path from India to Texas and what’s next for UT’s dining halls.

Your academic studies span a BA and MA in English literature, an MBA, and a PhD in education and human resources. What attracted you to all those fields?

I was the oldest of five siblings and my parents were successful entrepreneurs, but neither of them had the opportunity to go to college, so I was the first generation in my family to go. Growing up, my parents always said, ‘You’re gonna go to college.’ We didn’t know what that was going to look like, but I always knew I had their support.

English literature will always be at the heart of what I enjoy doing. I enjoy reading Shakespeare, Chaucer, or new drama and plays. With the MBA, my emphasis was in human resources. I was very fascinated with how people work with each other, what makes a group successful, and how you plan for the future. My doctorate gave me a great overview of the history of higher education. Understanding the evolution, the laws that go into effect, and how you plan for a successful program when the landscape around you is changing every day. I had really good backgrounds that help me think not only for the present, but also the future.

Your Twitter bio (@hemlatajhaveri) reads: “Speaks five languages, dabble in the stock market, entrepreneur.” Can you explain each of those?

English was my first language growing up in India. Part of it is that my parents come from different caste systems, so the common language for them was English. Schools in India want you to learn more than one regional language, so I was very fortunate to pick up the three languages at home and at school: Hindi, Marathi, and Gujarati. And then I came very close to getting my bachelor’s in French literature as well.

As for the stock market and being an entrepreneur, I like to handle my own finances. I do spend enough time researching and doing my own investing because I trust myself, so there’s no one else to blame if my stocks don’t do well.

What’s next for Housing and Food Service at UT?

Our students are in tune with sustainable foods. About 24 percent of the foods that we offer in the dining centers are locally produced. We’re definitely offering a lot more gluten-free options and students also want whole grains.

In the residence halls, we have 7,400 students on campus, a very diverse population, and it’s important for us to help students transition to college. About 65 percent of the students that live with us are first-year students. So our RAs that live on the floor with them do a really good job in terms of offering programs where students are learning life skills. For example, how to do laundry when you first come to campus. We’ve created a funny video to send out to students to talk about how to separate out colors, how much detergent to put in the washing machine.

We also bring in local comedians and magicians to the residence halls. We’ll pack the room with students who want to come out and mingle. The residence halls have evolved so much as a housing and food operation that it’s so much more than just a place to eat and sleep.

You’ve said that students today have a global palette. How important is inclusion and diversity to you?

It’s really important to create an environment that’s open to diverse and creative input, because if not, then we’re never growing.

When planning the cultural dinners, we ask our students, ‘What do you want to see?’ Our RAs work hand-in-hand with food service when creating those. I’d say about 2,000 students participate in every dinner that we have. It goes back to really opening the students’ minds and learning about a different culture.

The other piece is, our resident assistants on the floors with the students are our front-line staff. We do intensive diversity training with them, because it’s important that we create a welcoming environment for every single student at UT.

Since you’re a vegetarian and like to stay healthy, how do those lifestyle choices influence Housing and Food Services?

If you haven’t eaten lately in the dining centers, you would be amazed at the vegan and vegetarian options we offer. I always tend to overeat when I eat in the residence halls because we have true chefs that are preparing the meals. They love being creative, they love seeing what’s happening in the industry and bringing it back to the students. They love getting recipes from students, and I’ve given them recipes too, so they’re very open to trying different things.

Can you tell us about a good book you’ve read recently?

I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai. I think it really just speaks to how passionate Malala is for education for women. What does it mean for that society? More broadly, it makes me think about how education is a privilege and that we should never take education for granted. It really makes me think about how fortunate we are, and I am personally, to have had all the opportunities I have and to work at an educational institution. We’re truly educating the next generations to come.

Jhaveri and Area Manager Aaron Voyles see the unveiling of new artwork at the Longhorn Art Series reception in Jester Center. Photo courtesy the Division of Housing and Food Service.

 

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