When I came to Eastern as a freshman I needed a job. I didn’t have my car with me, so an off-campus job was out of the question. I was limited to what was offered on campus, even more so by the fact that I had no idea what was even available. With my unlimited meal plan, I made frequent use of the dining commons. It was there that I picked up a written application to be a student worker with Sodexo. For three years, aside from the odd menu item, very little about the job changed. The hours stayed the same. The food mostly stayed the same. Even most of the people who work there, like Bill the cashier, or Tony Jenkins, a supervisor in the dining commons, have been familiar faces every year.
This year was something new. This year, the hours have been extended in some locations, while other locations close in between meals. To-go meals are completely different. Where we used to offer pre-made sandwiches and packaged snacks, now students are handed a plastic container to fill with anything in the dining commons. The menus at the Jammin Java and Breezeway have been simplified and organized in a way that each place is unique, as they were harder to distinguish in previous years. The biggest change by far has been the meal swipes. In the past, meal swipes could only be used in the dining commons or during lunch at Breezeway. Now, any student can use a meal swipe for up to $6.50 at any of the retail locations.
These substantial changes have not happened without fanfare. Many students and staff shared their thoughts on the specific ways in which the changes have affected them. Sandy Miller, who supervises the Jammin Java, likes the changes to the meal swipes. “It’s convenient,” she starts, “It gives more freshman the opportunity to enjoy options other than the dining commons.” Billy Faulkner, an Eastern University graduate who works with Sandy notes “when I was a student it was different. Now it’s so easy.” Referring to the changes to meal swipes, “it brings more students downstairs.” Billy also pointed out how “people are divided on the changes to the menu.” “Being back is really surreal. I ate here. I sat there. And now it’s so different.”
Up in the dining commons, I sat down with Nate Tracy and Andrew Meneses to talk about how the changes have impacted the biggest dining location on campus. Nate, who serves as a supervisor in the commons likes how the changes give students “more flexibility.” “It really lightens traffic in the dining commons, and being closed between lunch and dinner really helps with keeping the space clean,” he adds. Andrew, who works grill, agrees that the changes have been good, and that it really “takes a little bit of the load off the dining commons around rushed times.” Nate pointed out how the longer hours benefit athletes and the new to-go system works well in concert with those hours.
A student athlete, Leslie Lutin, confirmed that the new hours are “a lot better for athletes because now I have the option to actually eat after practice as opposed to ordering out.” Leslie did mention that she wishes the Breezeway had some “healthier options,” however. Morgan Woodworth, a senior, told us “I really appreciate the changes to the meal plan! It’s much more convenient and makes flex dollars stretch further.” While most people have responded positively to the changes, not everyone has felt that way. Sophomore Jessica Allen expressed concern how the new to-go and menu changes have “impaired the diets of vegetarians on campus.” She spoke on how the old to-go meals had less variety, but they were more convenient for students on the go. The limited menus also leave much to be desired for vegetarians. “It so much work because BW and JJ don’t have much that we can eat, and what we can is fried,” was what Jessica had to say and I’m sure she speaks for more than just herself.
As for me, I worked in the dining commons for the past three years. I woke up early, helped set up breakfast, and then worked the dish room through until lunchtime. The change moved a lot of the traffic downstairs to retail, so for the first time since I was hired freshman year, I now work regular shifts at the Jammin Java as a cook. The experience has been refreshing, and it feels good to be the one learning again. Change is good. It allows us to grow and make mistakes. It is comforting to know that Eastern and Sodexo really listened to students’ concerns and made changes to help improve campus life.