Concerns about student behavior in dining halls prompt conversations about safety protocols

Dining hall staff addressed concerns of students violating social distancing guidelines.

A variety of public health procedures, including designated clean and dirty tables, unidirectional routes, and socially-distanced seating protect students dining in Pioneer Hall on Monday, Nov. 2.

Ava Thompson

The University of Minnesota dining hall management is proposing new enforcement and implementation strategies to address student COVID-19 safety concerns.

During the Twin Cities Student Senate meeting on Oct. 21, Amy Keran, the director of contract administration, presented potential changes in the dining halls to reinforce safety guidelines. These changes include the installment of plexiglass at all dining halls, reinforcement of the reservation system and the presence of an M Dining manager to enforce safety protocols.

“We don’t want people to have to go back to their rooms. We really want to try to have as many options available to people,” Keran said. “So, that’s why we’re really trying to help press upon [students] that if they help us comply and do these things, we’ll be able to keep the dining halls open.”

Since the start of the semester, M Dining has implemented COVID-19 safety guidelines in all residence halls and University dining spaces, including a reservation system, signage to ensure 6-foot social distancing and face covering protocols.

M Dining management sent out an email to students and families on Oct. 3 addressing the fact that some students were not following the current COVID-19 safety protocols. Additionally, the email said all students must use the OpenTable reservation system beginning Oct. 5 for residential dining centers, whether they are choosing to dine in or take meals to go.

“COVID-19 is too serious to become complacent,” Vice President of University Services Mike Berthelsen said in the email. “Failing to follow this important safety guidance, which is part of the Maroon and Gold Sunrise Plan, puts everyone at risk–especially those with underlying conditions and weakened immune systems.”

Students have been seen moving chairs, congregating in groups at tables and taking their face masks off when eating and not putting them back on, Keran said.

“I’ve been seeing the same things, just a complete disregard for all the rules and precautions,” said Grace*, a community advisor on campus. She requested her real name not be used due to her ongoing employment status. “The dining hall tried to have specific places to have students sit, and they’ve just completely disregarded that. They’ll just take off their face masks way too early or won’t put [them] on after they finish eating.”

Grace said the University should tackle these concerns more directly instead of sending email reminders.

“I understand the point of sending out an email, but freshmen don’t read their emails,” Grace said. “I would like to see them start addressing the rules, even if they have to hire more staff specifically to enforce the rules.”

Chris Elrod, the senior marketing manager with M Dining, said food safety is the top priority.

In an email to the Minnesota Daily, Elrod said, “M Dining, managed by Aramark, is committed to maintaining both a safe environment to serve students and a safe workplace for our employees.”

The name of a current CA has been changed due to employment concerns.