Amid sweeping changes due to the coronavirus pandemic, there is one aspect of college life that has arguably endured the most obvious shift — the dining halls. A benchmark of the quintessential collegiate experience, the Wellesley College dining halls have undergone extensive restructuring in personnel and workflow, with newer staff moving to overnight custodial positions.
This year, only three out of the five dining halls are open for business. Bates, Tower and Bae Pao Lu Chow dining halls have adopted a takeout system wherein students are able to take pre-packaged meals, while Stone-Davis and Pomeroy are closed for the remainder of the school year. For those halls that are open, students are required to enter and exit in 45 seconds or less. The hours of operation for the dining halls have also changed; Bates and Tower are serving dinner until 7:30 p.m. and Bae Pao Lu Chow has extended its hours to 11:30 p.m. to mitigate the possibility of students ordering from food delivery services or going off-campus for late-night dining.
“Pre-packaging the items for the students was a difficult change for us because Wellesley’s never done that except in retail operations. So that was a big change and it was obviously more time consuming,” Bates Production Cook Maureen Sullivan said. “With the reduced staff numbers, it’s really been a struggle to keep up with packaging all the food to get it out to students.”
In addition to the new challenge of getting food out to students in a sterilized and timely manner, the dining hall employees must also now work with a reduced staff. According to Sullivan, Bates Dining Hall has decreased its workforce from 22 full and part-time employees to 19; Tower and Bae Pao Lu Chow have similarly altered their payrolls to account for the decreased number of students on campus this semester.
“Who can predict all the pitfalls? This year has definitely been and will continue to be a challenge,” Sullivan said. “In theory, it seemed like it was going to be fine. In reality the changes in spring were overnight. Now, we need to go through the process to wash down, clean, disinfect, sanitize. We had all these extra steps in.”
Approximately 30 cooks across all five dining halls have been reassigned to custodial positions for the 2020-2021 school year. Rather than being laid off, the most junior workers were given the opportunity to apply for overnight jobs in sanitizing and ensuring that all facilities adhere to a strict cleaning schedule.
“The administration was very accommodating for us to be able to keep a job here,” Bae Pao Lu Chow Beverage Director Delbra Blackmon said. “I was a cashier at Lulu for all of the past 12 years that I’ve been working at Wellesley, and I loved my job, but it was eliminated for this academic year. My favorite part was no doubt being able to interact with the students and greeting them every day. Working in beverage services is still great, but a lot of the personal interactions that I enjoyed so much have been lost.”
In dining services, salaries are determined by a tier rate of pay, where one would be able to earn the highest wage by their fourth year of employment. Conversely, those in custodial positions are eligible to receive full pay regardless of their seniority. While the reassignment of jobs is temporary, the union for dining hall workers has reached an agreement with the College that these changes will be in place for at least the remainder of this school year.
“I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be working here when I see the students come in every day. It really makes my job worthwhile — they’re the reason that I’m here,” Blackmon said. “I don’t have any complaints at all with how the College has been able to adapt, and I’m confident that these temporary changes will result in a better Wellesley experience in the future.”