Students and workers reflect on Ball State's dining experiences during COVID-19

<p>Indiana Academy juniors Simone-Mone&#x27;t Brown and Jameson VanBelkum have lunch at the Student Center Starbucks May 10, 2021. The Student Center Tally Food Court and Starbucks are the only dining options on Ball State&#x27;s campus open for all summer months. <strong>Grace McCormick, DN</strong></p>

Indiana Academy juniors Simone-Mone't Brown and Jameson VanBelkum have lunch at the Student Center Starbucks May 10, 2021. The Student Center Tally Food Court and Starbucks are the only dining options on Ball State's campus open for all summer months. Grace McCormick, DN

Dining Services summer hours

May 2021

Monday – Friday

  • Student Center Starbucks: 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.
  • Tally Food Court: 7 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.

Saturday – Sunday

  • Student Center Starbucks: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Tally Food Court: 11 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

June-July 2021

Monday – Friday

  • Student Center Starbucks: 7 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Tally Food Court: 7 a.m. – 2 p.m.


Undergraduate Orientation

The Atrium

  • June 1 – 15, 7 a.m. – 2 p.m. (Closed Saturday and Sunday)
  • June 28 – July 16, 7 a.m. – 2 p.m. (Closed Saturday and Sunday)

Multicultural Center ice cream shop

  • June 1 – 15, 7 a.m. – 2 p.m. (Closed Saturday and Sunday)
  • June 28 – July 16, 7 a.m. – 2 p.m. (Closed Saturday and Sunday)

Woodworth Dining

  • June 1 – 15, 7 a.m. – 2 p.m. (Closed Saturday and Sunday)
  • June 28 – July 16, 7 a.m. – 2 p.m. (Closed Saturday and Sunday)

Karen Adkins, senior director of auxiliary services for dining, catering and events, said Dining Services will continue to follow the same COVID-19 guidelines it did in the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters.

Source: University Dining website and Karen Adkins

Editor’s Note: Before the spring 2021 semester ended, The Daily News wanted to ask students and workers their perspective on dining during the pandemic. Some dining halls have closed for the summer since this article was written.

After a year of numerous changes made by the university to protect students and staff from COVID-19, Dining Services was one of the campus services most drastically affected by social distancing requirements.

Taking safety into account, Dining Services made many changes to adhere to state and local health department guidance, said Karen Adkins, senior director of auxiliary services for dining, catering and events.

“Our plan [includes] creating safe spaces for in-person dining, to-go options and frequently disinfecting highly touched and trafficked areas,” she said. 

Physical distancing and mask-wearing signs are displayed in each of Ball State’s dining halls. Seating has been reduced or spread out and outdoor dining options are encouraged more than before.

For the summer 2021 semester, Adkins said Dining Services will continue following federal, state and university COVID-19 guidelines as it did during the previous semesters.

As Ball State approached the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, Assistant Director of Menu, Wellness and Training Amy Hardesty said devising a plan was a difficult process, but, so far, it has paid off.

“We worked together with the university to prepare the best plan possible for reopening this past fall,” she said in an email. “From last March … each new challenge has allowed us to adapt to new directions, new ideas and new encounters with grace.”

New additions to the dining experience were made on campus, including the opening of North Dining and the Atrium Cafe and Convenience Store, which Hardesty said have been successful.

“We are pleased that students, staff and community members have had the opportunity to enjoy [new] dining this year,” Hardesty said. 

Matt Merkel, North Dining cashier, said sanitization is always on employees’ to-do lists while on shift. 

“We do sanitation and cleaning every 30 minutes with tables and high-touch areas,” he said. “Some of our services were changed to help reduce the opportunity for coming in contact with others.”

Self-serve areas of dining halls have been revamped during the pandemic to keep customers safe.

North Dining cook Jennifer Davis said to-go options are more accessible to students than in years past. 

“We have had to put items in to-go containers to prevent contamination,” she said. “We’ve changed how we display our products and stopped self-service.”

Changes to Dining Services affected how many students socialized with their friends during the 2020-21 school year.

Sophomore general studies major Jacob Dillingham, a frequent visitor of Woodworth Dining, said what was once a social spot for him is now just a grab-and-go stop. 

“I don’t sit in the dining hall a lot just so I don’t have a chance of spreading or getting [COVID-19],” Dillingham said.

Freshman elementary education major Erin Muller said she doesn’t know how much dining halls have changed since last year, but she is grateful Ball State is giving students the option to dine inside compared to other colleges around the country.

Eating with her friends, Muller said, was one of the only ways she got to enjoy their company because of other rules put in place across campus, like guidelines made by Housing and Residence Life that limited three students to one dorm room.  

Adkins said the campus community’s health and safety has been dining staff’s top priority during the pandemic.

Some student favorites, like Elliott Dining and the Bookmark Café, did not return this year. Adkins did not disclose if either are making a comeback for the 2021-22 school year, but she said all decisions are made in the interest of the students. 

“As a result, we strive to establish and implement change within our structure based on feedback from our customers,” Adkins said.   

Without the flexibility of students, faculty and university administrators, dining halls would not have been able to function as they did during a difficult year, Hardesty said. 

“‘We are in this together’ has been a slogan for the university during these times and speaks directly to our staff,” Hardesty said. “Everyone, truly, has worked together to make sure we are able to provide the best services to our customers safely.”

Contact Grace Bentkowski with comments at gmbentkowski@bsu.edu or on Twitter @gbentkowski

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