The beginning of the fall semester was marked by several changes in dining halls: A new kosher kitchen, halal station and allergen-friendly kitchen were added to the Sharpe Refectory and Josiah’s received a summertime makeover. There has been a relatively positive student response toward these changes — especially those that center more inclusive dining options and build out infrastructure that addresses the needs of Brown Dining Services staff. While other, more design-oriented renovations are well-intended, we especially applaud the changes that are substantive rather than aesthetic. Dining Services should place its focus on improving food options, continued issues BDS staff face and the new pressures that come with these novel dining changes.
In the past, student feedback toward BDS has included criticism of food quality and wait times. The Undergraduate Council of Students’s fall 2022 poll found that “Forty-three percent of respondents were concerned with the quality of dining hall food, 45% were concerned with long waiting times in dining halls and 52% were worried about understaffed dining halls.” Still, there was general student support and satisfaction with the dining environment and the work of BDS staff.
We’ve seen the culmination of a few projects aimed at improving the dining experience in recent months. Adding new kitchens has expanded menu options, eliciting a positive response from students, and helped create a more inclusive dining experience. Dining Services can now better accommodate students who have previously struggled with uncertainty around what they are able to eat on campus. The increased variety and quality of food options have also decreased lines at the Ratty, cutting wait times. We’re glad to see the positive effects of these changes.
Another welcomed expansion is the increased programming hosted by BDS for students. Just in the fall semester, Dining Services hosted a cooking event with a chef, pumpkin painting and a kitchen tour. This is the right impulse — regardless of student participation, it’s good to see an effort being made to connect with the campus community.
But Brown hasn’t stuck the landing on every recent dining change. In particular, the summertime renovations made to Jo’s have been poorly received by some. Although the updates were intended to “provide a more inclusive dining experience for all students at the University,” as The Herald previously reported, student reactions to the updated decor have been mixed at best — with one student describing the new look of the dining hall as “aggressive and fake.”
The decision to allocate money for an aesthetic makeover raises concern when there are still deeper issues in Dining Services that have yet to be resolved. Although Brown has made changes to its facilities since reporting by The Herald in 2021 exposed the extent of understaffing and unsafe working conditions, recent conversations with BDS workers revealed that many of these issues persist. Workers still struggle with finding accessible and affordable parking, work overtime in order to maintain basic functionality in the kitchens and deal with faulty equipment in the Ivy Room and elsewhere. The same expansions that have garnered praise from students appear to have also caused additional stress for workers. For the developments touted by Dining Services to be considered true improvements, they have to include the well-being of staff in that calculus.
Dining — what, when and where we eat on campus — is one of the most foundational aspects of student life at Brown. Any change made by the University ripples across hundreds of meals and thousands of students. Although there can be a culture of negativity around dining hall food, the recent changes made to Brown’s menus and dining infrastructure have seriously expanded the options for eating on campus and created a more inclusive experience for students. Additionally, new forms of programming by Dining Services have proved to be a success — and a way to promote connections between students and Dining Services staff. But these improvements aside, we’ve seen some misguided renovations and, concerningly, potential neglect of workers’ concerns. As Dining Services and the University consider future initiatives, they should take their cue from the reactions of staff members and students who work and eat in the dining halls every day.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board and aim to contribute informed opinions to campus debates while remaining mindful of the group’s past stances. The editorial page board and its views are separate from The Herald’s newsroom and the 133rd Editorial Board, which leads the paper. This editorial was written by the editorial page board’s editors Kate Waisel ’24 and Devan Paul ’24, as well as its members Alissa Simon ’25, Rachel Thomas ’25, Yael Wellisch ’25 and Paulie Malherbe ’26.