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In a world where campus meals could be a highlight of the day, we often find ourselves grappling with culinary disappointments. At Susquehanna University, we all share one thing in common: we eat. Our days involve navigating classes, clubs, and countless other activities, but when it comes down to it, mealtime is a near-universal experience.
However, while it may be tempting to place the blame solely on Aramark—a corporation known for profiting from private prisons—or point fingers at the university for its alleged close connections with Aramark, mainly through alumni working in Aramark corporate, the primary issue actually lies closer to home: with us, the students and student leaders.
The Challenge Dining Services Faces
Picture this: you receive an undercooked piece of meat in the dining hall. It's like discovering an unexpected papercut on your hand. Frustration sets in, and your immediate instinct is to do what most of us do: quietly dispose of the food - bemoaning your lack of sustainability, find a disappointingly bland alternative, and then vent your frustrations to friends. Dining Services remains in the dark.
Why? Because your complaint, though entirely valid, doesn't reach the right people in a timely manner. For food safety issues, it is essential to notify someone in Dining Services immediately, providing precise details of the incident—when and where it happened—so that corrective actions can be taken swiftly. Student feedback can be a potent catalyst for change, but it's most effective when it includes a clear solution.
The Missing Ingredient: Specific Recommendations
Another challenge faced by Dining Services is the lack of specific recommendations. It's all well and good to say the Pad Thai is watery and terrible, but they still need to serve something. What would be more useful is if, in addition to complaints, students offered specific suggestions for improvement.
Proposing solutions rather than merely pointing out flaws can lead to meaningful change. Remember that constructive criticism of meal plans is a potent tool for enhancing our dining experience. Consider factors like cost and labor requirements when making recommendations, but go nuts. Heck, email the general manager and ask for a tour of the kitchens so you can get really specific!
Student Leadership and the Unintended Consequence
Student leaders have tried to address this for decades. Some have acted as full-on dining liaisons, forwarding common complaints and concerns to dining services. However, this system has had its limitations.
Ironically, the very act of student leaders taking on these responsibilities can sometimes lead to an unintended consequence: other students outsourcing their advocacy. When student leaders step in to address dining issues on behalf of the student body, it may inadvertently encourage students to rely on them rather than engaging directly with Dining Services.
Their intentions are sincere, and their efforts to improve Dining Services are commendable. However, a far more effective approach is to encourage students to advocate for themselves. By providing guidance, resources, and support, leaders can empower their peers to voice concerns directly and offer concrete solutions.
A Call to Action: Fill Out Dining Surveys
Now, the challenge lies in encouraging every student to make their voice heard in a helpful way. Dining Services genuinely value your input, but it's essential to channel it effectively. One significant step is to fill out dining surveys regularly and conscientiously. Use these surveys as a canvas to communicate your likes, dislikes, and recommendations. The quantitative section doesn't do that much, but the open-ended section to provide additional feedback can have a noticeable impact when used frequently.
The Success Stories
Don't forget that we have the power to influence positive change. The spice rack in the dining hall, the variety of options at the vegan station, more frequent fish choices, and the regular presence of chicken nuggets in the caf—all of these improvements stemmed from one or two students who approached Dining Services directly and provided specific, actionable feedback. Ask some recent alumni about how the meal plans were just a few short years ago. We've made progress, and we will continue to do so. Yes, things can be better. Go make it happen.