Saturday, March 24, 2018

Students Voice Concerns at Chartwells Session



Recently, Trinity students had the opportunity to participate in Chartwells feedback sessions as part of a restructuring process. There were individually tailored sessions for athletes, international students, and students with dietary restrictions; as well as sessions for the larger student body. The events were catered with food of higher quality than the general Mather fare, and students were payed twenty meal plan dollars for attending the session. A small delegation of Tripod editors attended one such meeting and left feeling rather unsatisfied and even a bit irritated; as is the case with most Chartwells experiences. The students present had no shortage of feedback for the food service company, but unfortunately, Chartwells seemed to only be interested in hearing what they wanted to hear.

What Chartwells wanted students to do was design both their ideal meal plan and the perfect set of hours that campus dining facilities would be open. There was much to be discussed in terms of meal plans. Not a single student present was happy with the current system. The topics covered ranged from the limits placed on the basic meal plan to the ever declining value of the “meal” swipe. There was consensus that the allotment of meals should be on a semester basis rather than receiving however many meals a week and watching them expire on Thursday nights if unused. Students at the session agreed as well that an a la carte style meal plan would be much better than the current offerings. Unfortunately, there was no proposed solution for the issue of being forced to purchase expensive meal plans in the first place, regardless of kitchen access. Many students do not want to be on the meal plan at all, so the entire question of what would make the ideal meal plan seemed like an exercise in futility.

However, access to kitchens is not the only reason that students do not want to be on a meal plan. Before crafting the ideal meal plan, Chartwells first needs to address the underlying issues that drive students away from their services in the first place, something they seem largely unwilling to do. The issue of food quality was largely ignored and the many complaints of receiving improperly cooked food was treated as the individual’s fault. The leader of the session advised students to complain and bring the food back; placing the blame on the workers. As the saying goes, bite into raw chicken once, shame on me, bite into raw chicken twice, shame on the Mather employees. If raw chicken was a one off it could be forgivable, and might even be the poor work of one employee, but when it happens time and again at multiple locations, the problem is systemic. Consumption of raw or undercooked chicken can lead to salmonella and other diseases, but students paying upwards of $70,000 per year on top of a Chartwells meal plan each semester should not have to be concerned for their health every time they enter the dining hall. There was no serious response to Mather Hall’s B hygiene, which was spotted by members of the Tripod staff over the summer. Discussion also centered around the nominal care given to allergy sufferers, with employees frequently disregarding labels and not washing their utensils or pans. Combine bad hygiene, disregard for allergies, and of course the bland offerings, and is it any wonder that students do not want to be on a meal plan?

Unfortunately, in this focus group session, the issue of consistently undercooked chicken was not the only opportunity the session leader used to question the integrity of Chartwells’ own employees. At one point, a student made an offhand remark about Chartwells employees being underpaid, an idea that is widely understood in the Trinity community. The session leader derailed the conversation to get into a back-and-forth with the students present about the compensation which the Trinity Chartwells employees receive. The woman leading the session asked if the students had actually seen the employees paychecks, then launched into a lecture about unions. The implication of all this is that the employees are lying about, or at least misrepresenting, the quality of their compensation. Really charming, Chartwells..

When the news that Chartwells was going to be listening to student feedback broke, many were optimistic. After seeing that feedback in action however, it is clear that before Chartwells can fix its meal plans it needs to fix itself. Students in attendance were assured that all comments would be used for improvement. So perhaps there will be positive change; the ball is now in Chartwells’ court. However, the impression that students were left with is that Chartwells is turning a deaf ear to the real issues.

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