CDS Should Keep Serving Up the Changes

Over the past year, Oberlin’s Campus Dining Services has faced significant criticism in the wake of changes caused by budgetary restrictions. Complaints have included accessibility issues, a lack of dietary options, dissatisfaction with the menu and food quality, labor issues with Bon Appétit, and the unpopular 300-meal plan that first- and second-years outside of OSCA are required to purchase. On top of these initial complaints, further issues included the closure of Dascomb Dining Hall; the removal of the made-to-order sandwich station in DeCafé; long, seemingly unmanageable lines in Stevenson Dining Hall; and the new meal swipe system in DeCafé which many students felt was confusing and disorganized at the start of the year. Despite these setbacks, we feel compelled to acknowledge the significant positive changes that CDS and the Dean of Students Office have implemented this year, as well as their demonstrated dedication to improving the dining hall experience for students.

Staffers have made an intentional push to gather student input through frequent surveys, the emergence of a textable hotline, and whiteboards in DeCafé and Stevenson Dining Hall where students can physically write their suggestions. In past years, it often seemed that nothing came of these surveys, as there were seemingly no obvious efforts or changes as a direct result of them. However, just this week, staffers filled the boards with frequent requests gathered from their survey that had recently been addressed. A board in Decafé describes additions of soy yogurt and milk, vegan overnight oats, increased salad bar options, and the promise of vegan desserts in the near future. In Stevenson, the salad bar had similar additions, and CDS also added rice to the menu for both lunch and dinner daily.
Additionally, the texting hotline system allows students to give immediate feedback in an innovative, effective, and accessible manner. It has allowed students to connect with CDS employees and created a sense of accountability over the dining experience. The old suggestion box in Stevenson was difficult to find and did not provide immediate responses, leaving students feeling unheard.

One of the most important things to come from the CDS surveys is the addition of the Sky Bar — a dining option that was eliminated for numerous semesters — in the Kohl Jazz Building. In a piece published by members of the Conservatory Council of Students at the start of the semester, authors cited many disturbing statistics indicating that Conservatory students were not getting their needs met by CDS. The authors noted that 94 percent of respondents missed several meals a week due to insufficient options to accommodate their uniquely structured schedules (“CDS Must Address All Accessibility, Health Concerns,” The Oberlin Review, Sept. 28, 2018). In response to the survey conducted by CCS and other CDS surveys, CDS reinstated the Sky Bar to provide Conservatory students a convenient and accessible option for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Another great example of CDS implementing student feedback was the incorporation of South Asian recipes — courtesy of the South Asian Student Association — for a Diwali -themed dinner. While it was a little upsetting for SASA members that a mere two weeks later they once again titled a dish Butter Chicken despite the fact that it was far from the true South Asian dish, their Diwali-themed dinner was an undoubted success. CDS should continue to make efforts to connect with student organizations like SASA. Getting input from cultural organizations while doing their best to represent their food was extremely appreciated, and allowed CDS to serve more authentic — and delicious! — cuisine. Students are more than happy to provide recipes and help. We enjoy taking part in this process and having cultures appreciated and represented as accurately as possible.

There have also been noticeable efforts to better accommodate students with dietary restrictions and accessibility issues. Gluten-free items have been separated to their own table to avoid cross contamination, posters outlining all the gluten-free items available during meals are now posted, and gluten-free options have been expanded in the board meal sections at DeCafé, including pastries, pizza, and sandwiches. DeCafé has also greatly expanded vegan and vegetarian items for board meals — including the popular addition of a daily veggie hot sandwich option. All ingredients in meals continue to be listed, and students have noticed the recent addition of labeling food as halal. Additionally, retractable dividers guiding food lines in Stevenson have created a more accessible space for students, ensuring the lines are not intrusive to walking spaces and reducing confusion about where lines start. When there are smaller crowds, staff remove the ropes in order to maximize walking space for diners. Moreover, students can now freely access the elevator, which previously was available only by request and with a key.

All of these positive changes are great starts, and there are still things that can be done. Peak hours still seem overcrowded, Lines at DeCafé can be long due to a lack of registers. There still seems to be too few options — specifically for breakfast — for people with dietary restrictions.

Ultimately, all these changes demonstrate a sincere effort and dedication to student satisfaction. While students have been quick to complain about different aspects of CDS, we have been slow to acknowledge the efforts of CDS staffers have made to improve the dining experience. So, to all the deans, staff members, and CDS workers who have worked so diligently to make these changes possible, we offer our sincere thanks to you. We appreciate your hard work, and we look forward to seeing what new changes will come.