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Tuesday, Aug 9, 2022

SGA, Admin Collaborate on New Dining Options

The Student Government Association (SGA) and Director of Food Services Dan Detora have continued to collaborate on changes to the dining halls in response to student feedback to the SGA’s dining survey. Though the survey left them sifting through widespread criticism of the new swipe system, SGA senators and Detora have immediately addressed other concerns through the introduction of several new offerings in the dining halls.

The SGA sent students a survey via email on Sept. 20, seeking opinions about the changes to the dining system implemented at the start of this semester. SGA senators Maryam Mahboob ’18 and Hannah Pustejovsky ’18 shared the survey results with the Campus. Respondents heavily criticized the swipe system, per these few examples.

“Make it faster! It's the 21st century, iIPhones are recognizing faces now, but we can't get this system to work faster?,” one respondent wrote.

In addition to the speed of the swiping sensors, students criticized the system’s effects on the logistics of leaving and re-entering the dining halls.

“It makes leaving and re-entering (even to return dishes) inconvenient. I am concerned that guests no longer have access to a main social space on campus,” another wrote.

Other students demonstrated concern for the system’s potential influence on campus culture and identity.

“Having open dining halls was an intrinsic part of the school's identity. It is something that was advertised to us as prospective students as an essential part of the Middlebury community,” one student wrote.

Mahboob and Pustejovsky sent the survey to students before a meeting between members of the SGA and Detora on Sept. 22. Mahboob and Pustejovsky next sent a school-wide email on Oct. 1, describing the main takeaways of the the survey results, their meeting with Detora and their plans to address students’ concerns.

“The dining survey that we sent out two weeks ago might have been the highest answered survey that we have ever sent, with over 1,100 answers,” the senators wrote. “Based on your responses, the main Dining suggestions are: 1) abolish the swipe system, 2) faster swipe system and shorter lines, 3) bring back to-go cups and 4) less allergens/dietary restrictions in food.”

The email explicitly stated that the swipe system will remain indefinitely.

“After our meeting with Head of Dining Dan Detora and VP of Finance David Provost, it became clear that the swipe system is here to stay,” Pustejovsky and Mahboob wrote.

The senators are looking into adjustments to help combat long lines. Members of the SGA met with Detora to strategize ways to improve line flow, but Pustejovsky cited the layout of the dining halls as an obstacle.

“I met with Dan Detora to do a walk through of both dining halls, and although we made minor superficial changes to the placement of things like the silverware, the buildings are simply poorly designed for this new system. I have a meeting with David Provost this upcoming Tuesday to hopefully discuss what the budget looks like in terms of future remodeling and other space usage on campus,” she said.

The fact that students have similar class and eating schedules also limits what the SGA and dining services can do.

“We are also looking at perhaps meeting with the Registrar’s office to discuss changes in the class schedule. As of the past few weeks, we feed 1,400 people on Tuesday/Thursday at 12:15, which is pretty unsustainable in terms of the size of our dining halls and the lines,” she said.

Despite widespread criticism of the swipe system among students, Mahboob and Pustejovsky maintain the importance of the system’s role in cutting costs and combatting food waste. The senators said that data regarding cost and waste will be available and shared with The Campus around the middle of the semester.

The removal of to-go cups was a temporary concern of survey participants, as the cups have already been reintroduced. However, a different type of to-go cup may be offered in the future.

“To-go cups were taken away because they do not compost well and pose a significant disposable waste issue for the college. Dining wants students to use their own cups to help prevent waste, but they may also consider a new type of cup,” the senators wrote.

Concrete efforts have already been made to meet demands for more options for students with allergies and dietary restrictions.

“Dining is thinking about a way to section off a part of the kitchen to accommodate a nut-free panini machine. It will have to be sectioned off, in order to prevent students from using it with nut products, so only students who really need to use it have access. I think we need to prioritize accommodating students with allergies and dietary restrictions, religious or otherwise,” Mahboob said.

The senators are excited about the arrival of several new items, and see these additions as part of a long term effort to provide better and more accommodating dining options.

“We are collaborating with the dining hall to introduce new delicacies on campus, such as Nutella,” the senators wrote.

“It's a process, and step by step we are making progress,” Mahboob said.

“Besides Nutella, you may have noticed that Dining has introduced vegan ice cream! Ross has gained a spice rack, and I believe both Ross and Proctor have added a greater variety of nuts and seeds, such as pumpkin seeds,” Mahboob said. The senators also announced that the three dining halls will be stocked with the same set of spices and condiments.

Mahboob and Pustejovsky addressed other immediate concerns mentioned in the survey, noting that skim milk should be available in every dining hall. If it is not in the milk dispenser, it should be stocked in the small fridges. After a hiatus, the waffle machines have been reintroduced, and the dining halls are currently in the process of offering three distinct menus as well.

“There will be no overnight fixes, but we are committed to working with the administration until we are able to obtain the best results we can for the Middlebury community,” the senators said.