College is always a super exciting experience, especially when it comes to living on campus. This also comes with having to deal with many different departments, including campus food and dining services. Many students at Bridgewater State University have made comments regarding dining services, both good and bad. Due to this past year and a half, with the COVID-19 pandemic and a decline of employees amongst other things, dining services may not be to blame for all the problems that many are frustrated with. However, when speaking with students, there were concerns that were had regarding the quality of food and service, accommodations for dietary restrictions, and the variety of food served at Bears Den, to name a few.
The President of the Student Government Association, Tyler Czyras (he/him), when asked about his opinions on Bridgewater Dining, stated “Everyone should be cognizant that BSU Dining is not intentionally doing anything to frustrate the student body. Dining is definitely just as frustrated as the student body is, as I can imagine they had many plans for this coming year. We must give them credit for the hard work they are doing, with all the obstacles in their way such as labor shortages, delivery truck problems, etc.” However President Czyras also mentioned that he has heard many things regarding consistency in mask wearing, as well as aspects of sanitation that includes “food workers using the same gloves they put in the trash to cook students’ food.”
The employees are working as hard as they can to provide for students to the best of their abilities with what they are given. Bridgewater Dining is currently hiring, with advertisements up on many different hiring websites, including Indeed, as well as holding job fairs amongst other things. There is also additional product shortages due to certain vendors that the school can use because of school contacts. In order for the school to be able to use additional vendors, the school has to have it inspected by Sodexo. In an interview with Staci DeSimone (she/her), the General Manager for BSU Dining services, she said “Sodexo inspectors actually go to their kitchens and make sure that their mission and values and their sanitation matches with ours. We don’t just get food from bla-bla place unless we go and inspect it.”
Bianca Najac (she/her), a senior chemistry major, stated, “My main issue with dining is that they are not advertising enough alternative options to accommodate the populations of students with dietary restrictions. As well as not fully being sanitary and cross contamination being a constant issue.”
Concerns like this were being brought up consistently, eventually leading to a petition being created by Bianca, and signed by many students who felt as though dining services here on campus were not up to par with what they were paying for.
In DeSimone’s interview, she mentioned she had sat down with Bianca and a group of students, as well as Joe Pina (he/him), the Executive Chef of Bridgewater Dining, in a round table discussion. The group discussed plans to reopen Flynn Dining Commons, more commonly known as Tilly, and also discussed plans of renovating the building to make it accessible. No plans to reopen Tilly are officially set.
“We met with the student who started the petition. … and it actually was a great surprise. … Chef Joe and I sat with her and about six other people and we really just talked through her concerns,” said DeSimone.
However, Najac seemed to have a difference in opinion on how the discussion went, saying that when she and her group of constituents met with DeSimone and Pina, “Both DeSimone and Pina laughed at the suggestions, didn’t take any accountability on why majority of the suggestions were not even possible to complete, [and that] they seemed to not take any of what our concerns were seriously. It felt very frustrating and just disappointing that as a member of this campus, that making changes that enjoy the time on campus. It makes absolutely no sense for the people that pay for meal plans to pay thousands of dollars for a program that doesn’t match that price.”
In the aforementioned meeting, a list of suggestions and concerns were brought up by students. This list includes the standard portion sizes reflected in meals, certain stations that are not in use that could be, diversity in food truck location and menu (including the suggestion of a revolving menu), adding additional preparation for alternative options, the inclusion of healthier and additional meal swipe options, extending hours, diversity of food, etc.
One of the concerns that was brought to dining’s attention specifically surrounded having a different section of the flattop being used as an allergy free section. “They were wondering if pork items, or something along that line, could be seperated from other items, much like we separate, we have like an allergen section of a flat top grill.” says DeSimone. There is a separate section on the flattop for students with allergies. Should students have eating restrictions other than allergies, choosing not to eat meat for example, they are able to request that the flattop be sanitized prior to their food being cooked on it.
Even with additional staff, will students get the changes they are looking for, or will they have to resign themselves to what they have? That is the question proposed to BSU Dining by its students. In the words of DeSimone, “They’re tired. We’re doing everything we can.”