Students create petition demanding reimbursement for meal plans

Burnham joined a group chat named “Kent Dining Woes” where students discussed the state of the dining halls and made the petition.

Burnham joined a group chat named “Kent Dining Woes” where students discussed the state of the dining halls and made the petition.

Some Kent State students created a petition on that encourages the university to refund student meal plans due to “the recent decline in food quality, availability, and inclusivity.”

The grievances are due to a lack of gluten-free and vegan options, uncooked food, long lines, the cost of meal plans and more.

The petition was created by Fiona Burnham, a freshman biology major, with help from more than 100 students who met and wrote the petition through a group chat. The petition has more than 4,045 signatures as of Sept. 17, 2021.

“I just think that when you’re being promised something that you’re clearly not being given it’s up to the university and the people up top to compensate for that,” Burnham said. “If they’re making promises they can’t deliver on, I think it’s their responsibility to make that right.”

While Burnham did not receive an email directly from the university, Lamar Hylton, the senior vice president for student affairs, sent an email to student meal plan holders Sept. 8, four days after Burnham posted the petition calling out some of the student issues with the dining halls.

“We remain excited about the continued elevation of our dining program and appreciate your patience and support as we progress through this transition,” Hylton said in the email. 

Raw chicken was served at the DI Hub to Ethan Clow, a sophomore architecture major. He was served two chicken tenders that were uncooked and partially frozen. 

Clow said dining services should add more steps to ensure the food is cooked thoroughly before being served to students.

Hylton addressed the uncooked chicken in his email, “We have conducted a thorough inspection of equipment where chicken is cooked to ensure proper calibration, and we have begun retraining our associates, where appropriate, for specific food safety processes for chicken. Your health and safety are always our utmost priority.”

Additional allegations of raw or undercooked chickens in dining halls have circulated social media as recently as Sept. 16. When asked for a statement regarding the recent posts, Emily Vincent, director of university media relations said to refer to the Hylton Sept. 8 email.

Liza Daddis, who helped launch the petition, is a freshman fashion design major, a vegan and “extremely” lactose intolerant. Part of her decision to come to Kent was based on its vegan options.

“The dinner [at Eastway] for the vegan option has been rice and beans and overcooked broccoli every night for a few nights now,” Daddis said. 

Freshmen like Daddis who live on campus are required to buy a meal plan. The least expensive option costs more than $2,200, but she’s also spending between $40 and $50 a week for groceries at the Kent Natural Foods market to supplement her meal plan. 

Daddis has been making a wrap for herself for lunch and dinner for a few weeks. She buys protein and tortillas from Kent Natural Foods. Then, she uses her meal plan to get lettuce from the salad station. 

“They do have a fashion design school in the city of Buffalo where I’m from, and it’s not as good, but if I get the chance of living at home and being actually nourished, I might consider it for my second semester,” Daddis said.

Farah Hawk, a sophomore nutrition major, also chose Kent because of its advertised meal options. Hawk is gluten and dairy free and is a member of the campus student organization Glamorous Gutless Girls, a group that helps people with digestive disorders.

She purchased the cheapest meal plan at $2,200 and still spends $70 a week to buy her own groceries. 

“What you eat controls a lot of your life and not having to worry about what you’re going to be able to eat makes it a lot easier to focus on your school,” Hawk said. “I have to put in extra time to go grocery shopping. I also have to put in extra time to go to work to afford going grocery shopping.”

Kent State’s Prentice Cafe was the first exclusively gluten-free dining hall at Kent State that was the first of its kind on any college campus in the country. It is now permanently closed.

“I have to take more time out to accommodate myself because the school won’t,” Hawk said. “Prentice was definitely something that sounded great to me and it sounds like I would have more freedom, but it didn’t work out that way.” 

Hylton said students with dietary restrictions can contact Student Accessibility Services for assistance.

Abigail Hursh, a senior advertising major who helped launch the petition, is a resident assistant at the Tri-Towers and has seen the effects of the dining halls on her residents.

“My residents aren’t happy and as an RA, it’s my job to make sure that they’re kept happy and they’re kept safe and they’re kept satisfied within the Kent community,” Hursh said. “Aramark was not great, but I dare say that this is somehow worse than Aramark.”

Kent State ended its dining contract with Aramark over the summer. Kent State’s dining services management now operates in-house.

As an RA who is provided with a meal plan, Hursh said she is frustrated with how they change from year to year. When she started as an RA in spring 2020, she received unlimited meal swipes, meaning she could go to a dining hall as many times as she wanted throughout the day.

Now, she receives two meal swipes per day, meaning she can only enter the dining halls twice per day.

“It’s just me having to think, ‘Okay, which meal am I sacrificing today?’ Do I sacrifice breakfast, which is supposedly the most important meal of the day? Do I sacrifice dinner? Do I sacrifice lunch?” Hursh said. “Either way, I’m gonna have to pay for a meal out of my own pocket just to supplement the fact that I do only get two meals a day.”

As of Sept. 17, the Patio Express, the Fork in the Road food truck, the Esplanade Starbucks and the Summit Street Café are closed but “coming soon.” 

All other dining locations are open, including Eastway, the Metropolitan Deli, the DI Hub, the library Starbucks, the George T. Simon III Cafe and Rosie’s Diner. Locations open at the Kent Student Center Hub include Einstein Bagels, Wild Blue Sushi, Hippie Chick’n and a second Metropolitan Deli.

When Eric Mansfield was asked for an interview, he said to refer to Hylton’s email as “the university’s position and statement.”

Megan Becker is an assigning editor. Contact her at [email protected]