Students dismayed at dining policy changes


Jin Ko/Courtesy

A view of Emerson’s Dining Center from the Boylston Place alley.

By Vivi Smilgius

After a year of specialty sandwiches and made-to-order pizzas, Emerson students are once again relying on the dining center and other on-campus locales to feed themselves—and many aren’t happy about it.

The Beacon reported in August that the college would drastically curtail its Board Bucks policy for the 2021-22 academic year—though college officials did not release an official announcement until Sept. 21. Board Bucks are a type of currency included in students’ meal plans.

The unpublicized shift eventually drew widespread backlash, as students realized their Board Bucks could no longer be used at off-campus locations, like Tatte Bakery & Cafe, El Jefe’s Taqueria, and Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh. Weeks after the policy shift kicked in, many students are still dissatisfied with the change.

Sophomore Erik Melendez criticized the lack of transparency in the college’s announcement—saying that he didn’t find out until he tried to use Board Bucks at Blaze Pizza and was declined.

“There wasn’t enough accessibility to that information,” he said. “When I went on the website, I didn’t see any changes.”

Melendez, like many students, said he missed having the option to dine off-campus without paying for it out of his own pocket.

Jordan Mackenzie, who serves as Emerson’s customer experience coordinator, said the dining alliance partnership— the formal name for last year’s policy that allowed Board Bucks to be accepted at nearby restaurants— was a temporary “emergency response” to the density restrictions brought on by the pandemic.

“Last year, we created the dining alliance partnership in response to the urgent need of providing resources for students,” Mackenzie said. “This year, because of the many changes and considerations like going back to full capacity on campus, we have the resources in order to provide what once was standard.”

Indeed, the current system—where students received $150 in board bucks, accepted only at on-campus dining locations—is essentially the same as that of the 2019-20 academic year. But the shift has left some students struggling to meet dining center times, manage their finances, or simply find food they want to eat. 

Melendez noted that on-campus locations serve lots of fried food—particularly later in the evening after the Dining Center closes, when the only real meal swipe option is the Max Grill—while healthier options can only be bought with board bucks.

“I don’t always want to be eating fried food,” said Melendez, “[But in all] the stores, everything is way overpriced, like the fresh fruit smoothies and stuff.”

With the dining center being the only option for healthy food that doesn’t cost board bucks, students are left paying inflated prices for healthier options at Emerson’s other dining locations. 

Other students, like sophomore Kinsey Ogden, are not happy about having to rely on the meal swipes for all of their food. Despite the wide range of cuisines served at the dining center, Ogden said she struggles to find substantial vegetarian options.

“I’m not always super excited about the options at the [Dining Center], so I’d get a panini at Tatte or a pizza at Blaze,” said Ogden. “But now, it’s more difficult to figure out when [the Dining Center] will have stuff I like.”

Junior Hannah Glaser echoed Ogden’s sentiment, saying she enjoyed having other options for food—especially since she tries to keep Kosher. 

 “A lot of times I would look at the menu at the dining hall, nothing was interesting,” she said. “There were not a lot of options, protein-wise. It was always pork.”

Glaser also pointed out that, with the increased reliance on meal swipes and the college’s return to a near-full-capacity campus this year, the dining hall is often crowded. At mealtimes, open booths are sparse and bar spaces are shoulder-to-shoulder—a scenario Glaser would rather avoid, as positive COVID-19 tests continue to crop up on campus. 

With campus facilities restricted to lower capacities and the dining hall operating on a grab-and-go basis, last year’s policy change was a solution that gave students options while managing crowds, according to Mackenzie. 

Mackenzie said Emerson’s dining services staff do their best to listen and respond to feedback—adding that both the gelato and all-day breakfast stations in the dining hall came as a result of student survey responses.

“Dining services is committed to gathering or taking feedback, as much or as little as that’s offered,” she said. “If there’s something that students want from a specific retailer on campus, if we can implement that, that’s always a commitment of ours.”