Student Assembly holds dining forum

by Eileen Brady | 5/17/18 2:30am

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by Marisa Stancroff / The Dartmouth

On May 14, Student Assembly hosted an open-to-campus drop-in forum regarding dining options at Dartmouth with Dartmouth Dining Services director Jon Plodzik. SA president Monik Walters ’19 and vice president Nicole Knape ’19 facilitated the forum in One Wheelock, hearing the thoughts and opinions of roughly 10 attendees who dropped in over the course of the one-hour discussion. College President Phil Hanlon and secretary to the Board of Trustees Laura Hercod were invited to attend the forum, though neither was present.

The forum began with attendees identifying some of their core concerns about dining at Dartmouth. Concerns included the rollover and transfer of dining dollars on students’ Declining Balance Account; long lines at King Arthur Flour; Collis Café and Courtyard Café; food options for students with dietary restrictions; and meal plan options.

Once Plodzik arrived, the forum consisted mainly of questions for Plodzik. He then fielded questions on changes to the dining system next year, the possibility of adding more dining options on campus and the feasibility of allowing students to opt out of purchasing a meal plan.

In response to a student’s question about opening additional dining halls, Plodzik said there are plans to include a café-style dining area in the renovated Dana Biomedical Library, located on the north end of campus. Throughout the question and answer period, he acknowledged that the current dining system is flawed and that changes need to be made — both in terms of dining options and meal plans — to better fit students’ needs. Plodzik said his goal is to have Dartmouth students enjoy dining at the College.

According to Plodzik, students’ overarching problem with Dartmouth dining is the value of the available meal plans.

“Value is a big problem here,” Plodzik said in an interview with The Dartmouth after the forum. “The model of having a set number of swipes doesn’t work, and there are challenges in the retail — because of this swipe mentality — that we’ve got to fix.”

To address these concerns, Plodzik said he hopes to implement a new dining system with options for unlimited and block meal plans and features such as guest passes and continuous service at dining halls. The 2018-19 school year will serve as a transition year before major changes are unveiled in fall 2019, according to Plodzik.

In an interview with The Dartmouth, Walters said that the forum, the first of its kind of which she is aware, is an essential beginning step in the longer process of improving dining at Dartmouth.

“[This forum] is just part of a necessary conversation that may be dragged out in some ways, but that needs to be initiated with more of a student focus,” Walters said.

She added that while she expected attendance at the event to be higher, she believes that many students chose instead to provide feedback using an online form sent out prior to the forum. The Google form, which asked students to “Voice [their] concerns!” on how dining can be improved at Dartmouth, received roughly 200 responses, according to Walters.

During the forum, Walters brought up many of the recurring Google form concerns to Plodzik.

Tamara Gomez-Ortigoza ’21 said she came to the forum because she thought Hanlon and Hercod would be in attendance and she hoped to address concerns she had previously voiced to DDS.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve been trying to talk to all the dining people, like the directors and the in-house dietitian, to get better options,” Gomez-Ortigoza said. “The forum, since it said that someone from the administration might be there, sounded like a good opportunity for school administration itself to hear what the students think.”

She said that she believes the administration has a responsibility to listen to students’ views on dining, adding that she believes the forum was a “step in the right direction” in terms of beginning this conversation.

If the administration cares about students’ opinions on other aspects of the Dartmouth experience, they should care about what students think about food, Gomez-Ortigoza said.

“Food is such an integral part of [the Dartmouth experience] — you need to have food to be healthy and to be able to go to class and participate in things,” she said.

Walters said that having a member of the senior administration at the forum would have been ideal, as dining issues affect almost every student at Dartmouth.

“I wanted the administration to hear directly the grievances that we, as students, have,” Walters said. “This really affects a lot of students.”