Safety in Dining and How to Improve

Sarah Manderbach '22, Opinion Editor

It’s been about a month now since Dickinson opened back up for the spring semester. I had somewhat high hopes, being a senior in my spring semester. It’s my last chance to really have a great time with my friends, and work our way to the day every student waits for: graduation. And it’s been going fine, it really has.

Except for the fact that dining has not really been the best. Let me just preface this by saying that I know Dining Services is working hard already on top of employees not showing up for shifts and the constant wave of Omicron that is plaguing the campus (yes I’m looking at you rising cases). They’re also dealing with an awful shortage in stock and food shipments to help feed a two thousand plus people campus, which is a mess when everything is taken into consideration.

That being said, as a student I feel like I have even less options for food than I did last semester. First, I don’t trust the dining hall. I had COVID-19 over winter break, and it absolutely sucked. I had mild symptoms, but regardless I still felt awful for being a potential risk to my friends, family, and coworkers. That carries into this semester, even though I have the antibodies remaining in my system. Not being safe risks giving up everything I worked 4 years towards, and putting my close friends and housemates in danger of missing classes and time of their last few months at Dickinson.

Right now, the dining hall is a COVID hot pot just waiting to brew over, if it hasn’t already, especially with the near 60 cases at the time this is being written. Especially with how short-staffed the dining hall is, the crowds and lines are getting worse and worse, and I want to avoid that as much as possible. I haven’t eaten in the dining hall in two weeks, going on three.

This leads me to my next point, which is that my meal plan is going to waste. I only ever go to the Snar anymore, since I can order online and easily avoid large crowds inside at once. That, and the sushi is a huge plus if it doesn’t run out by the time you get there. I never go to the Underground at the Juicebox because I just don’t like smoothies. Therefore, the Snar is my only viable option, which means it gets very tiring very quickly. I end up having to resort to other means for my meals now, and most of the time that doesn’t include the Devil’s Den since it’s stocked but not that stocked.

Because of all of these factors, my meal plan is being thrown to the side most of the time and I have to purchase groceries to sustain myself. My entire house has barely used their meal plans, some not even using it at all because they can find better alternatives by ordering out and going on grocery runs. And don’t even get me started on the DoorDash gift card that barely lasts people two weeks. My house probably spends about $100-200 on average a week on groceries because we think Dickinson has failed to feed us. I’ve even seen full Giant delivery trucks parked in front of first-year dorms delivering tens upon hundreds of bags of groceries.

What do I propose? Well a few things. First: give Dickinson students the chance to use their meal plan to purchase groceries. I’ve said this once in a previous opinion piece but I feel it needs to be restated. Only those with dietary restrictions have access to this service, but at this point it should be opened up to everyone. It’s getting tiring having to use my own money for groceries because Dickinson is struggling to feed its students. 

Second, give students compensation for the money out of pocket that we’ve had to spend on groceries. I plan on saving up my receipts to keep track of what was spent and intend to ask Dickinson for reimbursement upon graduation. That, or a full refund for my meal plan, whichever is better. It’s absolutely ridiculous that at this school, it feels like there are only two choices when it comes to eating. You can either risk getting COVID in the dining hall and be able to eat, or otherwise not get food, starve, and go broke trying to sustain yourself. 

Finally, bring back the dining hall as a Grab N Go option, or improve the status of the already existing Grab N Go to include a full dining hall menu. It was so much better for me as a busy college student to grab dining hall food on the go and eat it back in my dorm in a safe environment. 

At this point in the academic year, I urge the administration to consider how being reactive instead of proactive is impacting the thousands of students here and how we live the rest of our time here.