Entering the fall semester of the 2021 academic year, the Hamilton “Ham” Center has made various changes, some due to the school’s evolving response to the pandemic and others being a result of the new unlimited meal plan. Changes to Ham so far have included the installation of a blue wall in the middle of the building, the introduction of a new swipe system and the return of reusable dishes and silverware. With these transformations, there have been complications both for the students—who have complained about the smaller portion sizes and enclosed dining space— and for administration, who have had to tackle the financial aspects of this new plan.
The addition of the divider specifically has led to some negative reactions from students.
“The great thing about Ham is that it’s a communal space that students can gather at and study or hang out if they want,” third-year Jude Zelznak said. “But now, with the wall it seems like that aspect of Ham has kind of been destroyed.”
The blue barrier serves as a new check-in center. Students now go through a door in the wall and immediately swipe their student ID before entering, as opposed to last year where students would select their food items, then check out before leaving. This open system last year made it easy for students to take food back to their dorm to avoid any risks of spreading or catching COVID-19. This year, students can choose to eat in the building—using the reusable dishes and silverware provided by Ham—or ask for a takeout box with disposable silverware. Ham also recently started offering “green container,” an eco-friendly takeout box at the price of $10. The main problem found with this change lies in the amount of food being served to students who choose the to-go option.
“I know right now that students are under the impression that Ham staff are supposed to give double portions for takeout orders, since you’re not going to be able to come back in for more food,” Zelznak continues. “But I’ve been given very little food before when I order takeout, and I’ve heard the same from others.”
Food Representative and thesis student Telle Fugett posted a New Dining System Feedback form on the forum and received 76 responses in total. One of the questions on the form asked students if they felt that the portion sizes provided were appropriate. 80.8% of students felt as though the portion sizes provided were not substantial.
“I’ve been getting students emailing me directly, complaining about portion sizes and how limiting Ham staff are being,” Fugett said. “Some pictures of the food that have been sent to me have made me think that the unlimited meal plan isn’t so unlimited.”
Amidst the problems encountered through all the changes, administration has been trying to find the solutions. A meeting was held between Fugett and Associate Vice President of Administrative Affairs Christie Fitz-Patrick on Sept. 7.
“We talked about a variety of things, such as portion sizes, quality of food and adding new food options for students with dietary restrictions, like bringing back the salad bar,” Fugett explained. “We also talked about the possibility of opening up the dining area even when Metz isn’t open, so that students can hang out in that space again.”
Additionally, Vice President of Finance & Administration Christian Kinsley and Fitz-Patrick state that they have been trying to understand the food troubles that students face by going to eat at Ham more often.
“I feel like the biggest obstacle in solving these issues is that administrators don’t have a solid understanding of how the changes actually impact students from day to day,” Fugett said. “So I think it’s a good thing that Chris and Christie are trying to eat here more to fully understand why students have these complaints.”
“We’re taking this very much to heart,” Kinsley said. “I want Ham to be a selling point of the school with great quality. I want people to be happy with their food, and I know they’re not now.”
Fugett and Fitz-Patrick have agreed that food waste seen at Ham and the menu choices go hand-in-hand.
“Christie was very open to the idea of getting a better idea of students’ diets in order to minimize wasted food,” Fugett continued. “Currently, Metz is reporting about 20 lbs of wasted food a day.”
Menu changes are being eyed to better suit students’ preferences as a way to bring food waste numbers down. Student input is a big aspect of changes moving forward, but students have not felt very included in the process thus far.
“I feel like there should have been a lot more student input and a lot more food service meetings before some of these changes were made,” Zelznak said.
However, the future of Ham does look bright, and students will have more of an impact in its evolution in the coming weeks. On Sept. 15, there will be a food service meeting that students can attend, ensuring students are included in the fate of their own dining hall. Then, Ham could potentially reclaim its reputation as one of the best social spots on campus, as well as serving better food and more of it.