In recent weeks, students have voiced complaints about the limited availability of beef in Whitman’s Dining Hall. Dining services told the Record, however, that the dinner schedule cycle has not changed to include less beef this semester. While students have been vocal about their complaints on social media and in casual conversations, they have not raised their concerns with dining services staff, suggesting a lack of communication between the two parties. Although there are formal options in place for students to suggest changes, we at the Record believe that this instance is indicative of a broader need to create more intermediary, informal channels for students to voice concerns and suggestions about the food offerings on campus.
Dining services makes several channels available for students to express concerns. For example, the dining halls at Driscoll and Mission Park both have systems in which students submit suggestions and staff members post responses on a public bulletin board. There are also other official options for students, such as meeting with dining services staff members, whose contact information is available on the College’s website. In the past, when students have expressed concerns directly, dining services has been very receptive. For instance, students have worked successfully with dining services to ensure cereal is available late at night, and the opening of Lee Snack Bar two years ago was a collaborative effort on the parts of both students and dining services staff.
Although dining services provides multiple ways for students to give suggestions, oftentimes students do not prioritize scheduling a meeting with a staff member or do not think to email dining services with complaints. Students may not believe their concerns warrant direct contact with dining services. We believe the student body would be more likely to voice concerns if there were additional, less formal avenues for expressing worries.
While it has been more active in the past, in recent years, the Student Food Committee, which includes dining services staff and student representatives, has not been a very visible presence on campus. The Committee, which is run through College Council, publishes a semesterly blurb about its work and posts meeting minutes on the College Council website. However, many students may not read the update or know where to find the minutes online. The student members also get most of their insights into the student body’s preferences from conversations with peers, a method which may limit their findings to the opinions of a select group of students. There are several alternative ways the students on the Committee could reach out to the student body. The group could send out a general satisfaction survey in addition to timely surveys about specific issues or projects. This would make the Committee’s presence more well known and would gather useful data about student perceptions of the food options on campus. The Committee might also consider holding office hours as well as using social media, such as Facebook, to collect student input.
In the future, if the Committee does decide to make adjustments to the amount of beef offered or other significant parts of the dining hall menus, the Committee should reach out to the student body for feedback. Given the environmental concerns about regularly serving beef, it is important to consider how we structure the menus in our own dining halls and how we might substitute beef with other proteins, while remaining mindful of dietary restrictions. However, in the case that student representatives propose a significant change, the Committee should be transparent about its decisions and should consult the student body before implementing a new schedule.