By Victoria Gill-Gomez
After two weeks of quarantine and boxed meals, Hodson Commons Dining Hall reopened in-person dining on Monday, Feb. 8.
Students will have the option to dine in or take out.
According to an email sent out to the students living on campus by Assistant Director of Dining Services Kayla Young, only students who were released from quarantine by Health Services are permitted to walk up the stairs.
“We feel that our quarantine program went smooth and was successful,” Director of Dining Services Prince Johnson said. “We learned from other colleges’ successes and shortcomings and prepared a variety of meals for the students to bring back to their dorms while in quarantine.”
If a student is still under quarantine, they will continue to retrieve their meals from Create and Martha’s Grille.
Regardless, all on-campus students were asked to register for slots at which time they would have their scheduled meals, even if they do not plan on attending consistently.
Each meal shift is one hour long with a 175-person seating capacity, although none of the shifts have hit capacity. The slots will remain for the entirety of the semester.
“If you are unable to make your time slot one day and need to get your meal in a different time slot, it’s okay,” Young said in the email. “We have extended the hours of each meal to try and accommodate a safe eating environment.”
According to Johnson, his team partnered with Chartwell, WC Health Services, and the Kent County Health Department to prepare a “normal” student return. This partnership included the Director of Health Services Lisa Marx to help plan a new seating arrangement in the dining hall for social distancing.
Another change includes the sole usage of disposable service ware for both sit-in and take-out meal experiences.
One aspect that has not changed is the dining hall’s continued accommodation of dietary restrictions.
Johnson said the most effective way of ensuring each student’s needs are met is to be communicative with the staff about alternative options. While students have expressed to Johnson the anxieties of spotlighting themselves, he said there are many alternative options for students with dietary restrictions that cannot be displayed for everyone.
“We never want a student to feel nervous or excluded by their dietary needs, we want to be a part of your dining experience, and that is one of the benefits of coming to a smaller intimate school because we are all part of the WC family,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, students should feel welcome to reach out to a member of the Dining Services team for any questions, but if they want to email Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or Young at email@example.com.
While students are experiencing a different dining experience with their return to campus, the staff also returned to a new normal.
In March 2020, the entire dining team was furloughed. From that point on, Johnson and two other dining team members worked to feed the few students who remained on campus during the summer and fall semester.
Most dining team members returned in January, understanding of the fact that the furlough was “situational and not personal,” Johnson said.
The week of their return was spent training for new COVID-19 protocols and planning for student return.
According to Johnson, these additional protocols “truthfully didn’t change much” from their typical annual training. These additions include following Centers for Disease Control guidelines, social distancing, the use of masks, and more frequent sanitization of cooking and seating areas.
The dining team will also be tested for COVID-19 bi-weekly, monitor their symptoms with the Emocha App, and have their temperatures taken upon arrival at work each morning.
In the possibility that a student or dining team member tests positive, Johnson said that “we will take it as a case-by-case basis.”
“We are very happy to have our staff and students return, and our goal is to try and create a bit of normalcy in your life by bringing some of your favorite foods back to the dining hall. We want to express our openness to ideas and remind you that as a student driven program, our doors are always open,” Johnson said.
Featured Photo caption: The Hodson Hall Commons Dining Hall reopened on Feb. 8, 2021 to students who completed their initial quarantine on Feb. 8, 2021. Students who completed their quarantine were given the option to eat-in or take-out their meals from the dining hall while those who still needed to complete their first two weeks on campus continued receiving meals from Create and Martha’s Grille. Elm File Photo.