Student suggestions needed to ignite change in campus dining halls

OSWEGO, N.Y. – SUNY students criticize the changes made in the dining hall system, but dining hall workers say better solutions cannot be put into place without feedback on how to strengthen the system.

Mykell De Los Santos is a student at SUNY Oswego who has worked in the Lakeside Dining Hall for over three years. Washing dishes, serving food, stocking up shelves, as well as showing hospitality towards students entering the facility are his responsibilities. 

“One thing about the dining hall is student opinion matters,” De Los Santos said. 

De Los Santos said comment cards are in place for students to give suggestions on the food. The suggestions are then taken under consideration by the nutritionist on campus to make changes. The menu will ultimately be chosen by the nutritionist when students do not give input. 

“Then the students don’t come, and once the students don’t come that’s when they change the dining hall hours,” De los Santos said. 

Student involvement is one of the main ways dining hall hours operate. The other way is through money. 

All dining halls encountered numerous difficulties due to rising inflation, which led to increased costs for supplies. The primary source of funding for the dining hall is derived from meal plans, making it essential to be strategic in assigned resources. 

Daniel Siddons has served as the director of resident dining for over two years.

“We did have to raise meal plans a little bit, but we tried to keep that at an absolute minimum,” Siddons said. “So in order to do that we looked at where did we need to put our money to best serve the students.”

Administrators were left with no choice but to implement adjustments when the turnout at all three dining halls was consistently low. Breakfast was served exclusively at Pathfinder on weekdays.

The number of individuals having breakfast at Pathfinder equaled the total breakfast consumption across all three dining halls, indicating a significantly reduced overall demand.

“It really was not a wise use of our funds to keep the three buildings open,”  Siddons said. “One building can handle the entire college for breakfast.”

Students responded negatively to this change. 

“We responded quickly to student feedback,” Siddons said. “We realized there was some interest in breakfast and having something available where you are does mean something.”

In addition to changes to help student diners, there have also been precautions taken to improve the environment for the workers. But, student dining workers still feel overwhelmed by the workload.

De Los Santos said he has yet to find a balance between working and school. 

“I revolve my work schedule around my school schedule so that I don’t feel overwhelmed,” De Los Santos said. 

Similarly in the catering side of Auxiliary Services, one catering staff member has said she revolves work around her school schedule. 

Katelyn Baez is a student at SUNY Oswego who has been in catering for almost a year. Being dressed professionally, attending and catering to all events, setting up tables, and resetting everything for future events is what is required of her.  

Baez creates a schedule to keep track of all her responsibilities. 

“In terms of being a student the fact that I’m also an athlete forces me to set a time schedule and a time limit to how much work I have and how much free time,” Baez said. “Usually they do not schedule me on days that I am busiest.”

Baez still feels overwhelmed even with a schedule. 

“It is very overwhelming,” Baez said. “It can be conflicting because you are dedicated to both being a student and also being a worker.” 

The campus has been experiencing a shortage in staff despite the many measures taken to ensure a steady working environment. The extra slack gets picked up by those employed. 

“If I have work to do and I can’t find no one else to pick up my shift you get written up,” De Los Santos said. “It’s stressful finding someone to pick up your hours.” 

Siddons said that the dining hall is the largest employer of students, despite being low staffed. He said it is hard to provide the services needed without the staff. However, students usually start to apply as the semester goes on. 

“We usually start off pretty low on help and then gradually get those employees and we’ve since been able to add a lot more new names to our schedule,” Siddons said. 

Mental health affects nearly half of campus universities. De Los Santos and Baez both said their coworkers consistently expressed feelings of being overwhelmed while working these jobs.

 Angie Brown is the director of student health services and a family nurse practitioner on the SUNY Oswego campus. Brown said Mary Walker offers services during the day in place for students who need to talk. There are also hotlines for after hours if there are instances where students cannot wait for regular operating hours.