By The Berea Torch
On February 17, 2022, The Berea Torch published Blisters on Your Hands and Food Thrown in Your Face: Interview with an Anonymous Student Worker at Dining. The article sparked much discussion within the comment section and on the Bereans Gone Wild: Cult Edition! Facebook group. Furthermore, more dining staff came up and offered their stories to us.
As a part of a collaboration with the Dining Reform Movement, a student-run group to improve dining for both students and workers, we reached out and tried to interview as many students and Sodexo staff as possible. Every single interviewee opted to remain anonymous, for reasons that will become obvious soon.
In the Fall of 2021, the Dining Reform Movement group took a survey titled “Student Concerns About Berea College’s Dining Services.” 101 students, traditional and non-traditional, as well as alumni members, answered the survey. It will be referenced throughout both this and the next article on dining.
The Berea Torch reached out to student dining staff members for interviews about their experiences working in Dining Services and got multiple responses and interviews, though due to a certain email sent out before Spring Break, there was hesitancy. Here is what two (Anon 1 and Anon 2) had to say and how it coincides with student complaints from the Dining Reform Movement survey. Anon 1 is currently working in dining and has been since 2021. Anon 2 is no longer working in dining but did in 2021.
When asked about their experience within Dining Services as a student worker, Anon 1 said, “So when I first started working in dining, it was actually really nice. The managers that we had were super young. We always had something to talk about… But sadly, all those managers got fired over Christmas – all of them got fired like the line cook, the fry cook, the manager. It was so sad when I came back in; there was like nobody here. Honestly, it’s kind of turned into, I would say, a hostile work environment, this semester, compared to last semester.”
When asked to elaborate, Anon 1 told us that it is specifically the new management that is causing the hostile environment and once The Berea Torch had released the first article on Dining Services, their labor meetings mentioned us and that if workers had any issues, they should go to management to get it solved. Anon 1 said, “They are very much like if you have a problem, you should come to us managers about it, and we can deal with it internally. But the problem is that that internal problem is with management. So you can’t really go to the managers because it is just going to create an even more hostile environment. And then especially that attitude [will be] directed at that specific student who complains. They are very much trying to keep all the problems that we have within the cafeteria.”
Anon 2 provided an account of an experience they had with an official Sodexo staff member that aligns with Anon 1’s statements. Anon 2 said that they had begun working later in dining than everyone else and was not given the same training, having to learn from observation or through questions. They were unaware of the “no taking food” policy out of dining, and said, “a staff worker stopped me and berates me about taking food out that I didn’t know about. They took me to go meet the head of Dining Staff to lecture me. It was never really explained what was bad. And I still don’t know why it’s bad, you know? Because there’s a lot of food that’s being wasted in the back.”
We also wanted to learn more about the personal experiences of the student dining workers. Anon 1, who has experience in hospice care as a dietician, a job that required one to be certified in handling food, said, “A big thing that got me in trouble was the number of times that I would point out the meat [for the sandwich bar] that they would leave out, like not in a refrigerator, and it would just be sitting. I’d walk over, and I always had put a glove on, but I’d like walk over, and I’d like put my finger through the meat, and it would be completely hot all the way through just from sitting out not in a refrigerator. And I’m trying to make sandwiches with it and give them to students… I was like, ‘you guys, we can’t serve this.’ They would be like ‘you didn’t need to check the meat.’ And I was like, ‘No, we have to check the meat, right?’ And they would get upset when I would throw it away.”
Anon 1 when on to talk about how they had witnessed gloves not being changed, knives not switched, or cutting boards not changed when touching or cutting meat, vegetables, and fruits.
Anon 2 mentioned the raw chicken incident. A bunch of raw chicken had been served to students because it passed the thermometer check on the outside but had actually been raw in the middle. They stated it had been blamed on an official Sodexo staff member (who is since no longer working there on their own accord) when later, it was found to be a fryer issue.
All these combined, plus the numerous student complaints of hair or other suspicious marks on food commonly found within Bereans Gone Wild: Cult Edition!, relate to the Dining Reform Movement survey. One of the questions asked was “Have you or someone you know ever gotten food poisoning from dining, Tres Habaneros, or the Pinnacles Cafe? (Select all that apply).” 55 out of the 101 responses selected “Dining.” While it can not be conclusively proven, there is arguably a correlation between the practices of dining and the more than irregular cases of food poisoning.
The treatment of student staff by some managers in Mountainer Dining is less than acceptable and goes against the principles of Berea College. Students have a right to work and engage with the Labor Program without being bemoaned and disrespected. If any other workers want to share their experience with us either with their name or anonymously, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or @bereatorch on Instagram.
Come back tomorrow to read interviews with former official Sodexo staff and more highlights from the survey!