The Oberlin Review

CDS Welcomes Feedback to Enact Dining Changes

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This semester has seen a whirlwind of dining changes at Oberlin, including the reopening of Sky Bar’s lunch (and now pilot breakfast) service, the expansion of hours at Stevenson Dining Hall, and the reorganizing and downsizing of Fourth Meal into its original Rathskeller location, to name a few. These changes are a lot for dining administrators to understand, much less Oberlin students already tackling a full workload and rich extracurriculars.

To combat the confusion, two new systems of student-administration communication have been developed for the community to learn about dining changes, while also reporting back what isn’t working in practice. The first way is though the Dining Ambassador program, a group composed of four students — College juniors Jordan Bettencourt Francesca Scola, and myself, and College sophomore Mike Sandifer — who work each week to talk with students about food and dining, whether that’s composting, menu development, or the new texting hotline.

Oh, yes, there’s finally a hotline you can text to contact the CDS managers, operations coordinator, and nutritionist with one number: 440-427-3093. The hotline, named Zingle, is the second new CDS-specific communication system, which went live mid-October. Already, the tool has had great success. Incredibly cheap to set up compared to the price of Stevenson phone lines, it is a welcome addition to the campus dining experience that Dining Ambassadors and Dining Committee attendees have been asking about for many semesters.

Before the hotline, students could submit comment cards available at each dining hall, submit an online comment card, email any CDS official, or talk to a staff member during their meal. All of these options had drawbacks: physical comment cards were confusing to locate or use, the dining website maintained by the College (dining.oberlin.edu) was similarly underutilized and difficult since many students usedthe CDS-prefered website (oberlin.cafebonappetit.com), and, if students wanted to start a dialogue with someone from CDS after their meal, there was no simple way to do so without waiting until the next time they saw that person.
Now through Zingle, anyone can ask over text when a certain vegan entree will next be served at Lord Saunders, and either Matt Krasnevich, current manager of Lord Saunders dining hall, or Eric Pecherkiewicz, who manages the menu systems, can respond within minutes. Often, the turnaround is that quick.

Zingle has received a host of curious comments in the past few weeks, and in massive numbers: on Oct. 17, there were 14 conversations between texters and replying administrators. This week, Zingle has gotten three or four messages a day, ranging from saying the six-cheese mac ‘n’ cheese is “by far the best mac cheese i’ve had in my 4 years” to “How much longer is Stevie going to smell like sewage?” (Answer from staff: there is a basement leak, not impacting any food service, that Facilities is dealing with). One person only talks about hummus: “pretty sour [hummus],” “no hummus,” and “More hummus!! :)” are just some of the highlights. We love the feedback!

Oberlin has a pretty short institutional memory, especially among students, and there are times in Dining Committee meetings when an older CDS official will describe old facts about campus dining, like how Fourth Meal used to serve 300-400 students in the Rathskellar and was run by two angry sisters. At Dining Committee, we learn of current strange goings-on behind the scenes, from Stevenson lightbulb replacement to far-fetched ideas to turn the Rat into a noodle bowl store. So, the Dining Ambassador program is, in part, a way to record and disseminate both the history and future of CDS.

Communication about food is pretty wild. When the Student Senate Dining Committee on food issues surveyed the school last semester, they found that half of how students give “feedback” to CDS is through complaining directly to friends. Unless those friends are involved in CDS, those resentments (and hopefully some compliments) never reach the administration, who are busy with work orders, dining changes, and often do not start a lot of conversations with students.

I tended to be one of those friends who works in CDS, and this September at least seven or eight people approached me about the switch from peanut butter tubs in Stevenson to individual-use Smuckers cups (a misnomer since two cups are usually required for a full bagel). Students were concerned as the cups seem to be lower-quality and wasteful — especially because, since their introduction, Smuckers cups have been consistently thrown in the compost, contaminating the entire system.

If those seven or eight friends all texted the Zingle hotline to raise concerns about the peanut butter cups, dining administration would understand the large student push against cups, instead of me bringing the topic up, again, at Dining Committee. Side note: Smuckers cups were introduced because of allergen concerns, so the peanut butter tubs will not be returning. Instead, tubs of sunbutter are now at Stevie, replacing peanut butter. As College senior and Student Senator EmmaLia Mariner wrote in the meme page, “Seriously y’all complaining and memeing the dining situation is fun and increases dialogue but please bring those memes and critiques to the dining committee and the student senate dining working committee.”

I don’t want to trivialize discourse and conversations, but incorporating more investigation and research-based info into discussions would be super helpful. Are you worried about plastic straw use at DeCafé, or food safety conditions in Stevenson? So are the Dining Ambassadors, and we would love to talk about to you about these concerns, especially if the topics are too complex to text to the Zingle hotline. Several student groups are already working on those issues. We have a Facebook page, the Oberlin College Dining Ambassadors program, and you can always talk to us in person. This offer extends to staff as well, whether CDS workers or campus faculty.

As you’ve hopefully noticed, there are more ways of student-administration communication this semester, from the dining survey you were emailed about or the whiteboards available in DeCafé and Stevenson. These whiteboards owe their existence to the Mudd Slinger’s design; prior to Dining Committee, the CDS administration did not know what the Mudd Slinger was, again showcasing how much students can teach them about how we best operate. More is coming, and because many of the Dining Ambassadors are studying abroad next semester (Jordan to Berlin, Francesca to Thailand, and myself to Mongolia), we implore people interested in dining to come replace us this spring. Please contact us at our hotline to learn more: 440-427-3093.

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