On Thursday, Sept. 21, the SGA Dining Services held an open forum for anyone to voice their concerns with the new dining system on campus and to offer their suggestions. Questions were primarily answered by Gustavo Vasconez and other members of the campus dining services staff.
The forum opened with a brief explanation behind the reasoning of the changes to both the layout of the campus center and the student meal plans. Bill Short, Associate VP for Finance & Assistant Treasurer, explained that the biggest problem within the dining services was managing the cost and access to food, and that there was always a rough adjustment period needed when big changes were made.
The first question came from a student who wanted to know the thought process behind switching the payment method from a la carte to a swipe plan. Short explained the financial aid had already been established for the year, problems would have been caused had they tried to adjust it further. He assured students that “tier planning” would be available next year, and maybe next semester. “Tier planning” would be chevwaper than the cost to swipe into the campus center now.
Short also explained that student athletes have to eat a lot more than the average student for their sports, and that it was not fair for them to have to spend that much more money on necessary meals.
This brought up concern to another student who asked why they didn’t wait another year to apply the changes if they knew they were going to be rough on the students. “Freshman are going to think this is normal,” she said, also pointing out that athletes are more of a minority on campus.
The forum leaders pointed out that 25 percent of Rollins students are athletes, so they really aren’t that much of a minority and need help as much as the other students. The Sandspur was unable to confirm whether this statistic is correct, or not.
From there, they informed the students attending they were taking full ownership of the rough transition, and knew that students were struggling. “We still have a ways to go,” they admitted, thanking students for their understanding and patience with the transition.
“I felt like I was lied to,” said one vegan student who after ordering supposedly vegan options from the campus center found that the food had milk or cheese products. She said she felt like she was wasting her meal plan since she mostly had to eat off campus to meet her needs.
Vasconez told her that he and others had been meeting with parents and students about the vegan options on campus and they were “willing to become more informative about what they offered.” He explained that much of the listings of food were listed through use of technology and how sometimes technology is not very reliable. “Can we find a way to communicate better? Absolutely,” he said. He made sure to emphasize that there were vegan options at each station in the campus center, and all a student needed to do was ask. “It is better to be more proactive than reactive,” he said.
This brought another to student to express her concern that there were very few gluten and dairy free options. Vasconez explained that they were adding as many allergen free options as they could, and do not want to risk cross-contamination, which had been a large problem in previous years. He suggested that more space on campus might be needed in order to have every need properly tended to, but continuing to expand would be a work in progress for years to come.
One student pointed out that cross-contamination seemed to be even worse this year based off what she had seen. Employees making her food didn’t change their gloves after touching either a meat based product or something with gluten in it, or not even replacing the bagel if they put on a topping by mistake that the student could not eat. The student also mentioned how it was difficult for off-campus students who do not have a meal plan to sit with their friends inside the campus center. She also voiced concerns with vegetarian and vegan options being removed from Dave’s Boathouse, which had been there last year.
Vasconez explained that the problem with the employees would be handled immediately, and that they were trained as much as they could be before serving food to students. He also apologized for the removed options from Dave’s, explaining that it is still a proper restaurant and that items were kept based on their popularity. As for having to swipe into the campus center, he explained that there needed to be a way to control and monitor the amount of people inside, along with it being a security concern. He said that they thought there was enough space across the campus to sacrifice the freedom of that seating area, but he had been wrong and the campus would work on creating more space.
When one student asked if the quality of the food had gone down, Vasconez was quick to explain that it was more of a perception than a reality. “Nothing in the production of the food has changed, everything is fresh, and I would be happy to offer tours of the kitchen if any students still had concerns.” he voiced.
Vasconez continued by saying that if there were any students having serious problems using their meal plan or dietary needs, he would like to have a one-on-one discussion with them to help. The same went for the seniors and how their meal plan money would be handled. He wanted to make it a case by case address.
After hearing that Dave’s no longer offered gluten free bread, Vasconez guaranteed that this problem would be fixed immediately. He also said that green smoothies would be making a comeback, likely in the library next semester.
The whole dining services team wants students to know their feedback is important. “We are here to serve,” said Vasconez. “We are making lists of your comments and suggestions.” They continued to press they were paying attention and brought these issues up at every meeting they had, and and appreciate and seriously consider the suggestions of students.