Student Petition Reveals Common Issues with Dining Hall Experience

Students open a dialogue regarding dining hall options with a 400+ signature petition.


Outside the dining hall in the IDX Student Life building. Photo by Katherine Townsend.

With the extreme amount of change that both students and staff of Champlain College have experienced in the past two years, students on the meal plan want to cling onto some form of stability. One of the pandemic changes that students want to keep is take-out meals from the Champlain dining hall as a part of the dining plan. 

Champlain’s dining hall is run by Sodexo, a company involved in several colleges in the area. In the recent weeks, a conversation has developed between Champlain students and Sodexo staff not only about the goal of reinstating take-out, but also ensuring that food being served in the dining hall is healthy and safe for students of all dietary needs. 

In the wake of these student concerns, a few advocates within the student body have come together to develop a petition regarding the student experience at the dining hall. In just a few days, that petition garnered over 400 signatures.

The petition asked for student support, with the goal being that the dining hall receives “…a complete deep clean, a revision of the menu and ingredients used to determine the factor that is causing this illness, and most importantly a take-out option.”

A few of the individuals behind the petition shared their personal experiences on how the dining hall conditions have impacted them, as well as what motivated them to start the petition. 

One participant, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that they are having a hard time finding mealtimes in their busy schedule, which is a big concern when it comes to advocating for take-out meals. With the take-out option that the school does offer for sick students only, the student struggled with the setup of the program, and how far ahead of time they had to schedule their meals. In their time being sick and relying on this take-out program, they ended up spending more money than expected on buying food outside of the meal plan. This experience is what inspired them to advocate for a regular, standardized take-out service at the dining hall.

Bella Falco (‘24) was another proponent of the petition. After being remote for her freshman year, this fall has been her first experience with using Sodexo’s services. For Falco, the main issues she’s had so far is the feeling of sickness and heartburn after eating at the dining hall. 

She said, “Personally, the one change I would like to see happen is the quality of the food. While of course we acknowledge the hard work of the cooks, there is something not working in their food … There needs to be healthier, more diverse options. Along with that, they need to figure out what is making everyone so sick.” 

On the first Monday of every month, Sodexo hosts a “Student Culinary Council” meeting, with the first for the fall semester being on Oct. 4. At this meeting, students representing the petition, including Falco, came forward to address the Sodexo team with their concerns.

The meeting on Oct. 4 started at 8:30 p.m., and the conversation didn’t end until 10:00 p.m..

After students raised concerns, the Sodexo team acknowledged the desires of the students and informed those present of the logistical hurdles that would need to be overcome in order to make these changes happen.

Regarding sickness, it would require students to report to the health office or Sodexo staff what meals were making them sick so that there could be an investigation into food-borne illness.

Regarding the desire for take-out meals, it would increase the cost per meal drastically. Some of the concerns about the cost were caused by the risk of students feeding non-meal plan customers with their swipes, as well as the price of packaging itself. If students were to bring their own containers to negate that price increase, this would break health code. This restriction is in place because Sodexo is responsible for any issues with the food even after it’s out of the building, even those which could result from poor dish hygiene on the students’ part.

The team at Sodexo has also been impacted by the shortage of staff, as many food service establishments have been since the start of the pandemic. Out of their typical operating staff, there are many hours looking to be filled, which has led to difficulties keeping up with the demand of feeding the student population. That being said, they have continued to successfully provide meals to the students on the meal plan, and nobody remains unfed as a result of these staffing issues.

Overall, it’s apparent that any changes that would be made to the dining hall as a result of the petition would take work from both students and staff. Students would need to keep track of their wellness and personal health, for example, creating a food diary, in order to figure out what in their diets is causing them to feel unwell after eating Sodexo’s food. Only after that information is tracked can Sodexo pin down what the issues may be on their end. Offering a take-out option would also involve an overhaul of the dining plan itself, which is designed for sit-down dining. This overhaul could not occur within the school year and would increase the price of student meal plans.

It’s going to take some time for any changes to occur, but as a result of this petition, the student body and Sodexo will continue to communicate in order to adjust and improve the student experience at the dining hall.