Dining Services Address Uses Open Forum to Discuss Student Concerns

Amanda Wampler '24, Associate-Co-Managing Editor

In response to concerns regarding Dining Services the first weeks of the spring semester, Student Senate organized a Zoom open forum with Director of Dining Errol Huffman that resulted in both resolution and further frustration on Thursday, Feb. 4 at 5 p.m. 

With students arriving under the college’s stay-at-home order, Dining Services came up with a plan that would allow students to safely eat and get the most out of their meal plan. When students first arrived on campus, the Grab & Go meals came with a grab bag full of snacks, including  pre-packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, and celery. One of the main complaints brought up by students was that the grab bag contained a lot of extra food that created unnecessary waste. 

Alexandra Wyatt ’24 said, “I like the options included in the lunch and dinner bags, even though sometimes it feels like a lot of food.” 

After students voiced their opinions on the grab bags, the Dining Services switched them from a pre-packaged style to a pick-your-own bag. With this process, students can pick the snacks they enjoy and leave the ones they do not. Huffman added that this process was changed to “limit waste and add value to the meals.”

This semester, Dining Services stopped the Any-20 Plan and the Flex Plan to create one plan for the spring 2021 semester. The dining plan is divided between the first group of first-years and sophomores, COVID Spring 1, and the second group consisting of juniors and seniors, COVID Spring 2. For both plans, students will be paying $1,500 for their meal plan, and any student who is staying the full semester will be paying $3,000. By reducing hours and food options, Dining Services was able to decrease the meal plan price by about $500. 

Under the COVID meal plan, students get one swipe per meal period, which expires if it goes unused. For example, if a student skips or misses the breakfast meal period, that swipe does not accumulate to be used at a later day in the week. Instead, each meal swipe ends after each meal period ends, limiting students’ ability to stockpile swipes to use all in one trip. This was one of the main issues students brought up during last Thursday’s open forum. Because the meal swipes do not accumulate, students lose money each time they miss a meal.  Students reported that this regulation became more difficult to abide with when combined with the limited Grab & Go hours.

Julia Settle ’23 said, “We pay $1,500 for a half-semester meal plan. That means that each swipe is valued at about $10.70. As I typically do not eat breakfast that is about $450 I am spending on meals I am not eating.” 

Settle is not alone with this frustration. Many students during the forum agreed with her point. Some students proposed an alternative option that could help the issue. Rather than swipes expiring after each meal period, they should expire at the end of each day, leaving students with three swipes per day to use at their best convenience. 

“A lot of students asked questions about the revision to the meal plan and each individual brought up unique points such as how the revision doesn’t consider the financial struggles that our families are going through during COVID or how students may miss meals due to religious beliefs or eating disorders,” said Magdalena Lazraj ’24.

Towards the end of the meeting, student frustration came out aggressively as one student became infuriated and made an obscene hand gesture. “On behalf of the students, I believe that the inappropriate hand gesture made was disrespectful and a poor reflection of the motives of the students that were there,” said Lazraj.

A few students from the forum brought up an issue that restricting dining hours poses for students observing Ramadan. While no formal resolution came about from this part of the discussion, Huffman assured participants that all students participating in religious events that conflict with dining hours will have their needs met, saying that students could “contact dining services with individual needs.”

Some students left the forum feeling unsatisfied with the conclusion. Lazraj said, “My biggest issue with the Zoom was that many of Dickinson’s solutions seem to shift the burden onto its students for things as simple as getting the bare minimum three meals a day we are forced to pay for… Many of the suggestions were met with frustratingly and truly repetitive statements such as ‘we hear you but…’ or ‘we understand you but…’”

With yet another unprecedented semester, the college must adapt in many ways that may not please all students. Huffman “asks for patience from students” as the Dining Services continues to adapt their meal plan and work towards the best fitting plan.