Friday, October 22, 2021

Dining hall closures met with petitions, letters from students, parents

September 27, 2021
<p>Elizabeth, a dining hall employee, cleans the tables at Shaw on Jan. 23, 2020.</p>

Elizabeth, a dining hall employee, cleans the tables at Shaw on Jan. 23, 2020.

Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

With the closing of dinner service at Landon and Shaw Halls’ dining facilities, Michigan State University has continued a trend of cutting meal services due to the severe staff shortage the campus is facing.

For some students, this action was a breaking point. 

While students have complained about shortened hours and lack of weekend service at some halls, taking away weekday dinners brought difficulties for those living in some areas of campus.

West Circle residents have arguably been the hardest hit by this new change. Landon's dining hall was the closest dining facility within nearly a mile for the residents of Landon, Campbell, Mayo and Yakeley Halls. The nearest options for them are now Brody or Snyder-Phillips Hall.

Landon Hall resident and interdisciplinary humanities junior Anna Heim said that no matter what mode of currently available transportation West Circle residents take, it’s at least a 40 minute round trip to the nearest dining hall.

“We’re at the area that would be most negatively impacted because it’s so difficult for us to get to other places,” Heim said. “For Shaw, there’s Owen literally across the street ... but us it’s just we’re in a really bad area for it.”

Heim said it’s not just the travel time, either. Walking across campus in the dark and accessibility for disabled students is also something that worries her.

“They’re like ‘Oh, just commute over to Brody now’,” Heim said. “Half the people, I’m sure, they will have a really difficult time getting over there.”

Heim started a Change.org petition to protest specifically Landon Hall’s cut of weekday dinners. In the closing remarks of the petition’s goals, Heim wrote that students deserve more given the price they paid for their required dining passes.

“We all paid for an expensive dining hall plan, and it is an injustice for it to be limited so severely without consideration of how student life would be impacted,” Heim wrote in the petition.

Parents also share frustrations regarding the new changes. Arthur Moy is the parent of a sophomore resident at Yakeley Hall, and said that his daughter doesn’t eat dinner some days due to the diminished options.

Moy said that some students’, including his daughter’s, busy schedules don’t allow them the time to make it to Brody or Snyder-Phillips for dinner.

“Because by the time you get out of your activity, the other dining facilities are closing for the evening,” Moy said.

Like Heim, Moy is also frustrated with the cost of the dining pass given the limitations of it so far this year. In an open letter to MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., he called for a possible partial refund on the dining pass.

“Students paid for accessibility which has not been provided (in all instances),” he wrote in the letter. “For those impacted, their cost should be adjusted accordingly.”

Residential and Hospitality Services Chief Communications Officer Kat Cooper said the university is implementing multiple options for students to get dinner at affected areas of campus. She cites the increased Combo-X-Changes, from six to 12, as the primary way MSU is addressing the issue.

The increased emphasis on Sparty’s locations, where many of these Combo-X-Changes are redeemed, brings its own problems. Many locations’ shelves are nearly empty—which Cooper said is a result of the continuing nationwide supply chain issues.

“As soon as we think we’ve got one product secured and order it, half of what we ordered shows up, or even less,” Cooper said.

Another option for redeeming Combo-X-Changes are retail locations such as Panda Express and Woody’s Oasis. However, these locations also bring drawbacks, as most currently close at 5 p.m. or earlier.

Takeout options and mobile ordering are also being implemented as a way for students to grab a future meal while they are near dining facilities throughout the day.

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Heim said fellow students and herself have not been able to successfully use these systems. She said that staff either aren’t aware of the system or don’t know how it works.

“There are a lot of people who haven’t done it because (staff) don’t know what they’re talking about,” Heim said.

The university is also implementing vans to shuttle students to dining halls that may take too long to walk or bus to, but it appears these have not been implemented as of the date of publication, Cooper said.

Additionally, RHS is increasing wages for dining-related positions from $10 to $12 per hour to $13 to $15 per hour in order to compete with local employer competition.

However, the hiring process is also being affected by the current staff shortage. Cooper said that RHS currently lacks enough staff to efficiently train new hires.

“The staffing shortage is affecting our ability to onboard and train people as well because it's at all levels of the organization,” Cooper said.

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