Dining modifications cause long lines, mass dissatisfaction among students

Photo courtesy of Sarah Mash ’25

Photo courtesy of Sarah Mash ’25

Due to an increase in COVID-19 cases in Cumberland County since the emergence of the omicron variant, Dickinson College has taken several steps to keep the community safe while having all students on campus. These provisions were laid out in an email sent out through the President’s Office in the lead up to the spring semester. Of the changes introduced, the ones that generated the most controversy were the precautions taken in regards to the dining hall.

In the email, Interim President John E. Jones III ‘77, P’11 stated that “through February 6, the dining hall will be open for grab and go only.” This is a system where students get take out containers, put on gloves, and get their own food in a buffet-style setup. This system has led to long lines that wrap around the HUB, enough so that side rooms need to be used to contain the sometimes half-hour long line. Students can only go through the line once with one meal swipe, which leads to portions only being so large, causing students to be frustrated and disappointed.

One student who has concerns about the dining situation is Esperanza Moreno ’23, who said, “It’s outrageous that students have to buy their own food, drinks, masks, and other services that the school does a great job at limiting,” due to the fact that portion sizes may require students to spend money elsewhere, such as the Devil’s Den or outside food locations. Moreno also mentioned how Dickinson students, including many low income students, spend thousands of dollars to attend Dickinson every year but are met with below-average conditions. She told the Dickinsonian, “issues like these [make] students feel like their money is not being properly used for students to have a better quality of life and education at Dickinson, dealing with these issues… [causes] students to worry about food insecurity, housing, COVID, and finding jobs that pay more than $7.25 an hour.” Along with these problems, paper takeout containers are close to running out on campus due to shortages caused by supply chain issues, requiring students to either use an extra meal swipe or pay $6 to purchase a reusable ecotainer. 

During this two week period, the dining hall will not allow students to sit inside of it, rather having to go somewhere else to eat instead. Due to a lack of seating, many students have decided to take their meals to other places in the HUB, either upstairs or in the Underground, effectively negating the purpose of closing the dining hall in the first place. Due to the long wait times, these groups can be sitting together even longer when trying to hold a seat before getting in line.

In response to this, the Student Senate announced that the Social Hall and Union Station would open in limited capacity to keep everyone from congregating in the Underground. According to Errol Huffman, the director of dining services, “it was something we’ve always had as a contingency thought,” which is how the seating change came into effect as early as it did. He also stated that dining services is trying to respond to the needs of the community in the best way they can, both in regards to food service and COVID-19 issues. Along with that, he noted how he is happy that the community is coming together and keeping their areas clean, making it easier to keep the dining spaces in other rooms going.

Dickinson has been working to alleviate the issues brought about by the new dining system. In his previously mentioned email, President Jones stated that additional meal delivery vouchers will be offered and food trucks coming to campus have been discussed. In terms of these expanded options, Huffman described them as “complementary to our food service, not a replacement… they are an alternative, particularly for those who are very sensitive to any of the issues with our program.” He went on to clarify that “[dining services] recognizes we’re not giving you what you feel is 100% the value of your meal plan, this is something we’re doing to try to give back to you… to acknowledge that while still doing 100% of what we promised to do.”

There have not been updates on the meal delivery vouchers nor the food trucks one week since said email was sent, although Huffman has stated he hopes plans can be decided on in the coming weeks. February 7th is still the day the dining hall is planned to reopen.