Students in uproar over Kent State’s changes to meal plans this fall

Junior business management major Hannah Robinson (left) talks with junior marketing major Kelly Corey (bottom right) about the new meal plans in front of Rosie’s Diner in Tri-Towers on Friday, Aug. 24, 2018.

Valerie Royzman

This story has been updated to include comments from Shay Little, the vice president of students affairs. 

When alarms blared through the newly renovated Eastway Fresh Food Company on Friday, students dropped their forks and turned their heads toward two female students trying to enter the door near the second-floor balcony — an attempt to sneak inside without swiping into the all-you-can-eat facility.

Emily Cornelius, a sophomore nursing major, said she saw this happen two separate times this week.

“Each time, I felt so bad for them because there were so many people staring,” Cornelius said.

A new swiping system, along with Declining Balance Dollars, is part of the meal plan changes Kent State implemented this fall. Students living on campus are required to purchase a meal plan, but commuters and students living off campus are exempt.

The university’s Board of Trustees approved Aramark LLC — a food and beverage service provider — as a partner with Dining Services in March 2017.

Meal swipes are accepted at three dining halls on campus: Eastway Fresh Food Company, The Market and Prentice Cafe.

However, students with plans including Meal Exchange — advertised on Dining Services’ website as “an added bonus to the All-Access and Block meal plans” — can swap a meal swipe for another food option at other dining facilities, like Rosie’s Diner, the George T. Simon III Cafe or The Cue Express in Olson Hall.

Signs at these alternative dining facilities explain what menu options are offered during time blocks, or “meal periods.”

Students attempting to sneak into dining halls is just part of the events that unfolded this week as those returning adjusted to the changes.

One student posted a video to Twitter depicting a crowded Rosie’s Diner in Tri-Towers, adding, “Seriously, this needs fixed.”

Kent State Dining Services responded to the student with a comment:

“Hi Kody, we sincerely apologize for your experience last night. We understand it was a frustrating experience and we are working diligently to make it better.  We appreciate your patience as we work through these first couple of weeks.”

Another student wrote to President Beverly Warren, asking, “Can we go back to the old meal plan next week? I don’t have time to wait 20 minutes for food at a swipe location between classes.”

Warren responded: “I feel your pain. It will get better as we move through these first weeks of the semester.”

On Thursday morning, KentWired asked students via Twitter to share their thoughts on the new meal plans — and the majority expressed frustration.

“The swipe system is ridiculously inconvenient,” said Bailey Downin, a sophomore interior design major, in a direct message. “As a person with classes from 7:45 a.m. (to) 8 p.m., I do not have time to sit down for a meal, let alone enough time to actually get enough food that makes the swipe worth it.”

Downin added that she did like the updates to the seating and ordering areas of the dining halls.

“Every other changed aspect of meal plan — the limited customization abilities, the swipe system, the dish disposal system, the way they went about reusable containers, etc. — (is) an overwhelming disappointment,” she said. “I will not be on campus next year because of it.”

Another student, senior psychology major Luis Peña, said he felt Dining Services’ decision to alter meal plans shows it stopped caring for students and it gave into corporate greed.

“Aramark is known in some places for coming in and fixing things up, but Kent State already had the top dining experience in the country, so they’re here trying to fix something that wasn’t broken,” Peña said.

Peña said the university is providing lower quality food to students for higher prices, and the renovations to dining halls can’t divert attention from problems.

“They renovated Eastway to wow everyone and distract them, but in all dining halls now, we get smaller portions, the lines are longer, the food quality has declined, dining staffs cannot keep up with the amount of people there, the tables are dirty, there’s trash everywhere, it’s too loud and there’s barely enough seating,” he said. “But hey, at least it’s new and fancy.”

Another student responded to KentWired’s post with a comment:

“As someone who has really bad anxiety about eating in public it sucks that I’m being forced into doing so every day,” the student wrote. “The declining balance was a huge step up from my last school, but now you’re doing the same system with worse food as well.”

Sophomore biology major Chase Beetler created a petition, called “Change Kent State’s New Meal Plan Back,” Thursday afternoon, which has garnered more than 1,200 signatures as of Saturday evening.

Beetler said he was compelled to make the petition because he heard people around him speaking negatively about the meal plans, but nobody taking action.

“I was expecting it to blow over and not gain much attention, but the fact that it has shows how passionate KSU students are about making a change,” Beetler said.

In messages, some students expressed worry about running late to class based on the long lines they endured so far this fall.

Shay Little, the vice president of student affairs, said events that took place at the beginning of the semester were one reason for lengthy wait times in dining halls.

“The majority of students that are on blue and gold plans, which are those unlimited meal swipe plans, are first- and second-year students,” Little said. “We know that first-year students were for the most part on the same schedule on Monday with convocation and the first ‘(First Year Experience)’ class, all the KSU Kick-off activities. And that brought students in the dining halls in large numbers at the exact same time.”

With classes now in session, she said she thinks there will be a “natural distribution of the activity in the dining halls.”

Little added Kent State will continue to monitor the number of students visiting the dining halls.

She suggested three options for students to utilize if they wish to offer feedback for the university:

Students can fill out a survey at Little said students can share anything from positive experiences with employees of the dining halls to concerns regarding food quality. If students leave their contact info, the dining team will follow up.

Another option to leave comments or concerns is Dining Services’ email, [email protected], which Little said it responds to routinely.

Dining Services is also available at its Twitter: @KSUDining.

Valerie Royzman is the features editor. Contact her at [email protected].