CDS Must Address All Accessibility, Health Concerns

Eilish Spear and Amber Scherer are members of the Conservatory Council of Students, an elected body of four students that works closely with the Conservatory and College administration to represent the Conservatory student body and foster a greater sense of community.

Two weeks ago, Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo hosted a forum to address students’ concerns regarding the changes to campus dining. Troubled by what she heard from Conservatory students about their difficulties in accessing healthy and timely meals, Dean Raimondo reached out to the Conservatory Council of Students to discuss further concerns and identify potential solutions. CCS quickly sent out a preliminary survey about the dining situation to our student body to ensure that we could bring concrete and comprehensive data to our meeting with Dean Raimondo. The survey results tell a dramatic story about the changes in Conservatory students’ access to food with the removal of Dascomb and the changes to DeCafé, and demonstrate a need for immediate changes to the current structure of Campus Dining Services.

We received responses from 123 of the Conservatory’s 580 students. These broke down fairly evenly between each class: 34.1 percent first-years, 21.1 percent sophomores, 22.8 percent juniors, 18.7 percent seniors, and 3.3 percent fifth years. Initially, we were concerned that the responses would be skewed due to a dislike of change — i.e., would the upperclassmen respond far more negatively than the first-years? These concerns were not realized. The distribution of responses across the five classes indicates a consensus that recognizes the immense challenges for Conservatory students in accessing healthy and timely sustenance.

Of the 79.7 percent of Conservatory students who eat in CDS, most eat their meals in Stevenson Dining Hall, followed closely by DeCafé, co-ops, buying their own, and Lord Saunders Dining Hall. Despite the number of people who reported eating mostly at DeCafé, more than two-thirds (68.6 percent) of respondents stated that they preferred eating in dining halls over grab-and-go.

Most shockingly, of the 105 respondents to this question, 71 said that they do not eat regular meals, and 99 out of 104 indicated that they skip several meals a week. Time was the most common factor preventing regular meals, although several indicated struggling immensely with the quality and choice of food available. One student, who identified as vegan for personal health reasons, described a choice between unhealthy, unfilling grab-and-go food that they could obtain quickly, or a balanced and filling meal at a dining hall that would take far more time out of their schedule. A choice between time and health. Another student, with Type 1 diabetes (one of several in the Conservatory), said it was almost impossible to meet their needs with the grab-and-go options at DeCafé and elsewhere on campus. Only two out of 94 say that the changes to dining this year have not affected them, while the rest indicate largely negative changes.

Finally, and perhaps most disturbingly, 67.5 percent of respondents say they purchased one or more meals in the last week, rather than using remaining meal swipes, due to the inaccessibility of CDS meals. For a dining service that costs at the minimum $4,592.00 per year for upperclassmen, and a required $8,230.00 per year for every first-year and sophomore, the burden of purchasing one’s own food on top of this is unacceptable.

For readers who haven’t experienced Conservatory life, some context is probably necessary. Most students’ weekdays are oriented around set orchestra or choir and opera rehearsal schedules. Our largest orchestra, consisting of nearly 100 members, meets from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, right after lunch.

For instrumentalists, rehearsals require at least ten minutes of unpacking, warming up, and preparation, and as such, students are expected to be in Finney Chapel by at least 12:50 p.m. Considering that many College and Conservatory classes end at 11:50 a.m. or 12:15 p.m., this has put Conservatory students in a particular bind when it comes to lunch. The time it takes to get from the Conservatory to Stevenson to eat, and then to Finney, has proved prohibitive for most of the respondents to our survey.

The changes to Campus Dining Services have had far-reaching effects in both the College and Conservatory. On March 12 of last year, the administration sent out an email to the student body detailing the changes to campus dining. There was immense and widespread concern in the Conservatory over the lack of proposed options on South Campus, and a follow-up email came a month later describing the potential for grab-and-go options in the South Hall bakeshop, intended to support Conservatory students. This has not happened, and the current system is clearly not working.

CCS has made a point to the administration that there is almost no access to efficient and healthy dining options on South Campus, where Conservatory students are concentrated. Lord Saunders grab-and-go lunch is minimal, unhealthy, and described by many to be almost inedible at times. There is no breakfast option on South Campus, and no accessibility to efficient dining hall service that meets the needs of Conservatory students’ unique schedules. It can and will be argued that Stevenson is really only a block and a half away, and DeCafé is hardly too far, but the issue is one of time. When 94 percent of respondents to our survey indicate that they are skipping several meals a week due to time and health concerns, something needs to change. CCS has met with Conservatory deans and with Meredith Raimondo to discuss potential solutions. These meetings have been productive and indicate the possibility of a concrete solution, and CCS is optimistic about the changes to come. But the Oberlin administration’s current lack of regard for student health and accessibility is alarming. Regardless of the severity of Oberlin’s financial state, the health of Oberlin students should not be sacrificed to bear the school’s burden.