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Food Insecurity at Williams I

Today, a Record article was released on the administrative response to food insecurity on campus, where students purposefully choose plans with fewer meals in order to save money. The coverage is excellent! Part 1 of a 3 day discussion.

For purposes of comparing the upcoming plans with this year’s plan: Williams offers four options for meal plans that students living on campus must enroll in: 21 meals a week ($6,760 per year or assuming 24 weeks in a year, $13.41/meal), 14 a week ($6,341 or $18.79/meal), 10 a week ($5,164 or $21.51/meal) or, for seniors, 5 a week ($2,728 or $22.73/meal). Note that a sandwich, a bag of chips, and a drink from, say, Spring Street Market, is approx. $12 – lower than any one meal offered by Williams. Wow!

Key quote from Steve Klass, VP of Campus Life on “the critical goal of ensuring that no student goes hungry”:

It’s important to appreciate the centrality of this principle to our decision-making, because we recognized immediately that this meant constraining some set of choices available to students on dining plans.

Emphasis mine. Note that, according to the Record, Sophia Schmidt ’17 first brought up this issue in the fall of 2015. I don’t know what Steve Klass means by “recognized immediately”, but I suppose his definition of “immediately” is at least a year after the fact. Assume that Steve Klass is being honest and really recognized this problem “immediately.” Then why did it take the administration so long to do anything about it? (Why the competent students, who did the research for the admin to “recognize immediately” this problem, were not included in the decision-making process is the subject of another day’s discussion.)

This is concerning, because I don’t believe that Sophia Schmidt ’17 needed that survey to prove that food insecurity is a problem. Much like how swipes in and out of buildings are monitored by campus security, the meal swipes of students are monitored and recorded as well. How would Dining Services know if you used up all your meals at the end of the week, right? Implication: the College has always had the data it would have needed to “recognize immediately” that food insecurity is a problem on campus. 

So why didn’t the administration simply look at the data they already have? They could have saved Schmidt and other students the two years they spent working on this issue if they simply looked at the data they already have. Why didn’t they, if “ensuring that no student goes hungry” is a “critical goal” of the administration? Something does not smell right (and I’m not talking about Taco Tuesdays in Paresky).

But maybe I am wrong and the College does not keep data on food swipes/whether or not its students eat. Unsolicited suggestion: it should! How else will they know if their students are eating? Isn’t “ensuring that no student goes hungry” a “critical goal” of the administration? That nothing has been done until now implies either (1) that Klass/the administration on “recognizing immediately” food insecurity is as honest as Kellyanne Conway on the Bowling Green Massacre, or (2) that whoever is in charge of “the critical goal of ensuring that no student goes hungry” is incompetent to not have recognized this sooner.

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Toughest Job in Cooking

When these pages last featured Evan Bick ’06, he had just returned home safely from his deployment to Iraq. What’s he up to now? Trying to improve Army chow:

Coming up with new meals for soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen to enjoy is a big part of what Natick Labs does. Before something goes into the MRE – meal, ready to eat – the item is tested at bases around the country, said Evan Bick, who is part of the Natick Combat Feeding Directorate.

“We ask them to rank it from zero to nine,” Bick said. “We don’t put anything in the field unless it gets a rating of at least six.”

I hope they grade on a curve — when you have to create foods that are shelf-stable, disaster-proof, and heat-to-eat, you’ve got to sacrifice something — usually taste. (Typical solution: lots of salt. And care packages full of hot sauce).

Below the jump, more on what they do:

Read more

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Details on Dodd/Greylock Closure

A report from last week’s forum.

It was not very well attended. Maybe a hundred or so students showed up. This is probably because they assumed that it would be useless to go and register a protest, since the decision has been already been made.

They were correct in this assumption. Sorry folks, but Greylock and Dodd Dining Halls are ending as we know them after this year. The hammer fell straight from the Trustees on down, it was a question of pure economics and barring some kind of lightning turnaround, this decision is final.

The transition has not been carefully planned or thought out as of yet. The senior staff and Dining Services are relying on a modest increase in accommodations in Whitmans and Driscoll, but aside from that, there is little consensus over how to solve the looming prospect of even longer lines and the fact that Driscoll is already operating at capacity at times. It is hoped that increased hours will flatten the bell curve of student attendance at the remaining facilities, especially during dinner time, but since the time span of attendance is determined by academic or extracurriculars as well that remains to be seen.

NOW for the good news: Dining Services and the senior staff are as freaked out about this as we are. No, that’s really a good thing. This is a hugely unpopular move and nobody knows precisely how the system will end up looking. As such, we, the students of Williams, are wanted and needed in the planning and execution process. Bob Volpi was practically begging for student input during and after the forum. There are things on the table right now that would have never been considered before: the possibility of a teppanyaki station and other options at the new Snack Bar, Dining Services catering for regular events in Dodd and/or Greylock Quad, a comprehensive overhaul of all the menus in tandem with students in the Big Three to ensure higher quality and variety, etc. These are just a few of the ideas that came up in my conversations this evening.

I came into this meeting angry at the lack of transparency and the blatant disregard for cooperation that characterized this decision, and I haven’t changed my feelings about this. Dean Merrill and Steve Klass have promised to release the data on dining hall usage and costs that was used in this process. Better late than never, I guess. That said, there’s a window of opportunity here for Williams to come away with a leaner, better dining system.

To the dozens of students whom I’ve heard complain about the quality of food, the lines, the prices at Snack Bar, the vegan/veggie options or whatever over the last two and a half years: now is your chance to step up. If you don’t want this fiasco to end badly, get involved, open a line to Dining Services or the Deans and come up with some ideas. They will listen. We’re going to set up an extended network of students who are willing to help out with planning and implementation soon, but seriously, take the initiative on your own. I heard enough good suggestions in an hour and a half to make me think that we can do this right if people care enough to get their hands dirty.

Comments:

1) Students interested in fighting this should follow my advice.

2) College Council secretary Beryl Manning-Geist kindly provided a copy of the minutes from last week’s meeting. (Are these posted on-line? What about the minutes from last year? Future students need easy access to this history.)

3) Is there any way that this won’t end in disaster? My first-hand knowledge of Paresky is limited, but it sure was crowded around noon during Winter Study. I have heard that it is similarly crowded now. How are several hundred more students from Greylock and the row houses going to fit?

4) “The hammer fell straight from the Trustees on down” is almost certainly false, or at least giving a false impression to students. The Trustees do not see themselves as running the campus. They would never take it upon themselves to decide to close Greylock. There job is to say, “the budget is $205 million and you can’t spend any more.” If Falk/Administration told the Trustees that Greylock was important but, say, the Bolin Fellows and local charities were not, then Greylock would stay open. But, when push comes to shove, the Administration would rather have students greatly inconvenienced then cut back on items with an indirect, at best, influence on the quality of undergraduate education.

5) Students could win this fight. Will they take the time to do so? I doubt it. Announcing unpopular changes just before finals is every new president’s favorite trick . . . ;-)

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Forum on Dining Hall Closures

There was a forum tonight on the closure of Dodd and Greylock dining halls. Were you there? Tell us what happened. Background from WSO:

CC was not consulted or informed in any way. This was a decision by the trustees.

Supposedly, we need to reduce our draw on the endowment by $21 million. Greylock costs $600,000 per year and Dodd costs $200,000.

Perhaps this was a necessary financial decision. But notice that it covers less than five percent of the budget gap.

If I had to guess, this might not be the last surprise coming down the pike…

Indeed. I understand the rational for closing Dodd, but I just can’t figure out Greylock. Don’t hundreds of students eat there every day, the vast majority from Greylock and the Row Houses? Aren’t all those students going to head to Paresky? (I can’t imagine any of them walking all the way to Driscol or Mission.) But Paresky is already very crowded during peak times. Does the plan really make any sense, just in terms of the raw number of tables/chairs?

Informed commentary welcome. My advice on how to stop/slow this idea here. If I were President Falk, I would be close Dodd for next year and see how that affects eating patterns. Wait on Greylock for at least a year.

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Save Greylock!

Students seem upset over the proposed closure of Greylock dining hall. What should they do?

1. Form a group. You need an actual organization, with a catchy name, dedicated to preserving Greylock dining or, perhaps, just to ensuring that major changes in College life are only enacted after the appropriate amount of due diligence. It should have officers and a (long) list of members.

2. Create a web page. This does not need to be anything fancy, but it should be a one stop resource for people. It should include an overview of the proposal, links to various source materials, and a summary of the group’s argument. Take the high road and provide links to the best arguments that the Administration has to offer, along with your point-by-point rebuttals.

3. Consider a blog. Actually, EphBlog would be happy to host updates from you about your efforts. At the very least, the webpage should have a “latest news” section with updates, site additions and the like.

4. Start a mailing list. This does not have to be anything fancy, just a simple list-server from WSO would do the trick. You need a way to update people on what is going on.

5. Recruit a vanguard. Who are the 5 to 25 students who are really going to work at this? It should not be trouble to get hundreds of supporters, people willing to sign petitions and the like. But who are the ones that are willing to put in some hours? Identify them and cultivate them. Give them positions and titles. Look for people at the forum on tomorrow.

6. Find some faculty/alumni support. This is not about finding people who are willing to do anything just yet (although that time will come), but you want to have some names on the “advisory board”, or whatever, who are willing to lend their reputations to your cause. Dave Johnson ‘71 and Norma Lopez ‘95 come to mind immediately.

7. Get College Council on your side. CC has its faults but it is rightly jealous of its prerogatives. Recruit CC members to the organization itself. Request time at the next meeting to present your objections. Have your CC members handle that. You want a vast majority of CC to be on your side and to pass a resolution to that effect.

8. Demonstrate student opinion on several levels. First, nothing beats a written petition with a thousand or more signatures. Don’t start this until you have a sense of just the right question to ask. The powers-that-be will be impressed when you hand this pile to them. Second, try to use the JOSE system (Is that what it is still called?0 to hold an actual referendum. (You may need CC permission/support for this.) Even if only 50% of students participate (and you should try to maximize participation), 90% in your favor would still help. Third, try to show support house by house. Try to get House Presidents and/or CC reps to hold straw polls at snacks.

9. Fight the process, not the substance. Your effort to stop the proposal needs to begin, this year, with stopping the immediate implementation. The focus should be on the process being too fast, with not enough student input, adequate study, relevant data, comparisons to other colleges and the like. The Administration makes a lot of empirical claims about what life would be like with no dining in Greylock. These claims are testable, to some extent, because of the natural variation of dining policies at other colleges like Williams. Demand that the data be gathered (which will take time!) and examined.

10. Don’t reach out to President Falk, Deans Merrill/Bolton and the trustees just yet. Get all your ducks in a row first.

Longtime readers will see parallels with my advice on fighting neighborhood housing: Fight the Power I, II, III, IV, and V.

What advice do you have for these students?

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Dining Services Changes

Email below on Dining Services reprinted in full from a campus mailing. Thanks to ’10 for providing the email and for Steve Klass for letting us publish it here:


from: Stephen Klass
to: WILLIAMS-STUDENTS
date: Wed, Apr 28, 2010 at 3:00 PM
subject: Message from Steve Klass and Karen Merrill Regarding Dining Services

To the Williams Community,

As an early step in the College’s reorganization process, some creative thinking about our student dining operations has resulted in a plan that both reflects the way that students use – and would like to use – the system and decreases costs.

Master planners like to say that it’s most effective to lay sidewalks after you’ve seen where the grass gets worn down, and we now have meal-count data and student input on more than three years of Paresky Center and Neighborhood System co-existence.

The new plan involves opening our most popular venue, Whitmans’, seven days (20 meals) per week plus late night. Late-night operations that currently reside in the Lee Snack Bar will move to Whitmans’. Dinner will be offered each evening until 8 p.m. there and at Driscoll and Mission. At the same time we’re working with College Council to make the ’82 Grill more comfortable and visually appealing and to offer an expanded menu and hours of operation. Details of these and additional new arrangements are listed at the end of this message.

The changes will go into effect at the beginning of the fall, when the dining operations in Dodd and Greylock will be taken out of service.

All current Dining staff in Dodd and Greylock will be reassigned based on new operational needs. We recognize that these changes may be disruptive to some of our colleagues in Dining and express our gratitude to everyone involved in making these changes possible.

We’ll host an open forum at which students can ask us questions about these changes this Thursday at the Baxter Great Hall in Paresky at 7 p.m. Read more

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Wish night

Greylock is asking for student input for the menu for its Wednesday dinners. There is some support from different quarters for Greek, Indian, and vegan night, but I think Hai Nguyen’s suggestion is clearly the winner. Williamstown needs more (any) schwarma. And falafel.

Also, falafel pita pockets should be offered at the Snack Bar. They even have deep fryers! Someone should suggest this to Dining Services. Or start a petition drive. Bring it to College Council. Have Gargoyle do something about it. Let’s get this done, people.

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The Snack Bar Paradox

For those of us students stuck with a full 21-meals-per-week meal plan, not going to the Snack Bar after skipping dinner in the dining halls seem like a waste of money.

The dinner equivilancy points were created for busy students who cannot go down to eat in the dining halls during dinner hours. Before coming to Williams, it never occured to me that there will be some days when- in between those meetings, classes, long lab periods and rehearsals- I would not feel like getting dinner at the dining halls. However, as soon as we freshmen arrived at Williams, we learned that the late night snacks at the Snack Bar and the ’82 Grill are pretty much the best things ever when trying to stay awake through that assignment due tomorrow.

However, the system is not without its negatives

The main problem with these dinner equivalency points seems to be that the students often feel pressured to spend the $7 worth of points at the Lee Snack Bar, even if they are not particularly hungry at the time. The points do not roll over and must be spent that day. In reasoning that not spending the points at the Snack Bar is like throwing away money, students often buy food that they’re not going to need to eat. There aren’t many options at the Snack Bar that can be saved for the next day (only those cereal and oatmeal packages, at least, as far as most are aware of), so the students will often consume unnecessary amounts of food in order to not waste the points.

“The major downfall of the Williams Dining system is that the points don’t roll over,” I overheard a student say on that long line to the cash register. She continued. “I mean, what if I didn’t want anything tonight? Why can’t I save it for another night, when there actually is a reason for me to want extra food?” While everyone might not consider it as the dining system’s biggest problem, everyone remembers those few days where we all wished that the points would roll over to the next day.

Another problem with the Snack Bar may be the lack of healthy options you can get with those $7 of dinner points. As a health-conscious entity, the Dining staff has few healthy options at the snack bar, such as the veggie pockets or black bean burgers. However, these vegetarian items often equal less quantity for the same price of non-vegetarian items. “I can never get a smoothie with a black bean burger,” one vegetarian student said to me, “The side salads here are an expensive option compared to the french fries. The Snack Bar made me realize that- oh, yeah, it really is more expensive to try to eat healthier.”

There also exists problems with long waits for the Snack Bar. The staff works diligently to keep the line moving, but it is inevitable that the wait for certain nights will go up to 40 minutes, just to get the order in. “I’m not surprised,” a friend observed, “I mean, they’re serving how many people per night from that tiny little corner?” With usually one or two worker taking orders, one person making the drinks, and three of the staff working in the kitchen area, it really seems impossible to streamline the process without expanding the kitchen and staff.

So can these problems be solved? Maybe. The last one seems to be the hardest to solve, as the popularity of the Snack Bar– the demand that keeps it going– will not die down soon. Few students suggested that there be multiple locations open late night for access to food, especially the Eco Cafe in Schow Atrium or one of the dining halls. However, it seems that this is not a plausible option in the midst of trimming costs. The same applies to the increase in cheaper healthy options or storable foods, and even the roll-over of points seem not as quite easy to set up as we think.

For now, the Snack Bar will have to stay this way.

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Bubble Tea

So, now that I’ve got your attention, who here has experienced Bubble Tea? I have, and it is an utterly unique concoction.

I had it in Singapore many years ago. It is a drink, although you need more than a straw to finish it off. There are lots of variations of the recipe. Mine was milky and sweet, with shaved ice, tapioca pearls and  even beans. My travel partner thought me a brave soul for ordering it, would not consider even a taste, and was horrified when I slurped the whole thing down.  

Bubble Tea is only one of the many delights of the Global Feast being served tomorrow evening at Greylock Dining Hall. If I was on the Williams campus, I would not miss it. The International Club and Dining Services has teamed up to give you curry, and sticky rice, and spring rolls and much more. Yum! 

So, go and have a taste of somewhere else. If you can’t get off campus for a change of pace, this might be the next best thing.

P.S. What strange and exotic food would you like added to this menu?

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RIP, Lobster Dinner

Banned from WilliamsOne of the most anticipated days of the year at Williams is the annual harvest dinner, where they served, among other things, lobster. This seems to have come to an end. A comment left by an ’09 on Speak Up led me to WSO:

Show Me The Lobster

…tomorrow night, harvest dinner.

Whatever happened to tradition? To honor?! To liberty?!?!?!

A look at the Dining Services website confirms it. Lobster is off the menu:

Locally produced cheddar cheese and crackers
Green River fresh apple cider
Pickled vegetables from Peace Valley Farm
Peace Valley greens with balsamic vinegar
New Englad clam chowder
Peace Valley green bean salad
Mystic haddock fresh baked with lemon garnishing
Hudson Valley chicken
Sea Vegetable Stew made from Peace Valley and local farm crops
Fresh and locally grown corn on the cob
Peace Valley harvested fingerling potatoes
Williams College freshly baked rolls
Williams Bake Shop fresh apple crisp made with Apple Barn apples
Williams College homemade vanilla Gelato

Now, I have never really cared for lobster, considering it an icky bottom dwelling sea bug. But non-lobster eaters such as myself always had the option of a strip steak instead, which left more lobster for our lobster eating brethren. However, the steak has also disappeared from the menu. The only proteins on there seem to be chicken and baked haddock. Baked haddock?! You might as well cancel Harvest Dinner altogether at this point.

This is the most serious casualty of the cost-cutting, by far.

UPDATE: Hey Dining Services – lobster’s a bargain right now. Prices are down by almost 50% from two years ago.

(thanks to hwc for the image. Original here.)

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Swine Flu Precautions

Most important, from a student perspective: Eco Cafe is closing in order to move staff for full “staff serving” at dining halls, instead of self-serve (salad bars, etc). For letter, click Read more

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Everyone Goes to White Castle

Change is coming to Williams in 2009!  Or, rather, wafting in.  Come January 20, marijuana will be effectively legalized in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Berkshire County DA David Capeless admits as much to the NYT today, in the process of bitching about the insuperable enforcement challenges presented by the recently-passed decriminalization measure.

To recap: anyone caught with an ounce or less of weed will owe nothing more than a $100 civil fine.  No arrest.  No criminal record.  No criminal anything.  But it gets better!

A complicating factor, said Mr. Capeless, the district attorney in Berkshire County, is that state law bans the police from demanding identification for civil infractions.

“Not only do you not have to identify yourself,” he said, “but it would appear from a strict reading that people can get a citation, walk away, never pay a fine and have no repercussion.”

That’s one way to hit Johnny Lawman where it hurts.  A further complication affects Williams less than, say, MCLA in nearby North Adams.

Mr. Capeless said that in particular the department needed to address a clause in the new law that said neither the state nor its “political subdivisions or their respective agencies” could impose “any form of penalty, sanction or disqualification” on anyone found with an ounce or less of marijuana.

“It appears to say that you get a $100 fine and they can’t do anything else to you,” he said. “Can a police officer caught with marijuana several times get to keep his job and not be disciplined in any fashion? Can public high schools punish kids for smoking cigarettes but not for having pot?”

Either way, pot-smoking Ephs are likely to feel a lot more comfortable by the end of Winter Study.

The decriminalization measure passed about 65-35 back on Election Day.

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Tush Imprint

This article by Juliana Stone ’12 brought back a lot of memories for me:

I fell asleep in the library at 4:30 in the afternoon on Thursday.

I’d slept three hours the night before and 3 1/2 hours the night before that. I’d been at the desk in the back corner of the second floor of Sawyer Library – the desk with the green leather chair that is now mine because it still has my tush imprint from 52 hours spent there over three days.

It’s finals week. I want to die.

I have three final exams, three seven-page papers and a showcase during finals week, so I basically am living in the library.

My carrel has accumulated two empty cardboard coffee cups, a scarf, two sweatshirts, an umbrella, a Nalgene bottle and a blue wool sock that I’m fairly sure was there before me.

Good times. Of course, I look back on that now as a wonderfully lazy, easy time of my life (note to Juliana: it gets much, much worse from here on out). And cost-cutting be damned, I’m glad the college still does these things for students (the gain in loyal alumni vastly outstrips the cost):

On Wednesday, we had finals week “StressBusters” in the Paresky student center until midnight: There was a live band and a dance floor; T-shirt tie-dying, spin art and sand art stations; facialists, masseuses, a balloon artist and a caricaturist; buckets of candy; and five kinds of cake.

Everyone kind of took breaks from studying and wandered in an out of the student center to try to de-stress. Throughout the night at my post in the library, I’d see people walking up the stairs, back to their carrels, with cool twisty balloon hats or bags of candy canes and Hershey’s kisses.

Speaking of treats, all of the dining halls had a holiday dinner recently. I was considering boycotting – they had it on a Thursday night as a replacement for Brunch Night, which is not something you mess with – but my friends were going and I thought my protest would be more effective if I found all my BFFs in Dining Services and whined really obnoxiously in person.

But it was lovely: All of the tables at Greylock Dining Hall were covered in red or white tablecloths, five little candles and red and green napkins, and they had a beautiful buffet station at the center of the hall around a display of a snowman and reindeer and fake snow.

There were little snowflakes and bags of gelt scattered all over, an entire table of homemade fudge and a huge chocolate fountain.

I generally just love Williams College, and I don’t really think about it anymore. But sometimes the school does something so lovely like this and I realize all over again how special it is.

Go read the whole thing. Ms. Stone is a wonderful writer, and I hope she’ll join us on EphBlog. In the meantime, keep an eye on EphPlanet for updates to her Daily Breeze column.

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