Emerson's dining hall: a topic of student hubbub for decades

by Rebecca Szkutak / Beacon Staff • November 20, 2014

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The Emerson Dining Hall has been a source of discontentment for students throughout the years.
Beacon Staff
The Emerson Dining Hall has been a source of discontentment for students throughout the years.
Beacon Staff

The dining hall used to be where students would get into one line to receive the day’s only entree “slopped” onto their tray.

In the 1960s, the dining hall was set up a little differently than it is now. Emerson’s campus was in Back Bay, and there was one cafeteria-style dining hall, according to Thomas Smith, a current Emerson professor and 1966 graduate. Smith, who said he worked in the dining hall during his undergraduate years, said this dining hall offered only one option per meal, and only served breakfast and dinner.

“The food was adequate,” Smith said. “But not very tasty.”

Dinner options included a potato, vegetable, and the choice of a meat, according to Smith. There was also dessert and a salad bar.

The only other option for food on campus was known as the Caf. This was a basement cafe at 143-145 Beacon St.—near the intersection with Berkeley Street—where all Emerson students could, as Smith recounted, go to grab a grilled cheese, coffee, or burger; listen to WECB; and smoke a cigarette between class.

The Caf was not part of the dining plan, though; Smith said students’ dining plans only covered the main dining hall. According to Smith, the Caf was a popular place for students to meet up for lunch, since the dining plan didn’t cover that meal.

In the late ’80s, the dining hall underwent some significant changes. It was still the only dining hall on campus and the only choice on the dining plan.

The dining hall added a few more stations, including one for sandwiches, allowing for more options. Even with a greater range of choices, students at the time still found the dining hall limiting and thought the quality of the minimal choices was low, according to Jane Pierce Saulnier, a current Emerson professor and class of 1990 graduate.

Pierce Saulnier said she quickly got tired of the dining hall. She said that she wasn’t usually a fan of what was being served, and found herself at the sandwich station quite often.

“Hating the food is part of the college experience,” Pierce Saulnier said.

Emerson opened its Little Building dining hall and dormitory in 1995, as part of its move to its current campus around Boston Common. Rob Jon Divo, a graduate in the class of 2008, said he enjoyed his experience eating at the dining hall, even though his dining plan was minimal. He said he enjoyed having a place where he could get milk without buying it off-campus.

“All I wanted was to eat real good food,” Divo said. “Honestly, it was decent overall.”

A petition was started in 2010 led by Sarah Cadorette to fix the problems students were having with the dining hall. Students wanted to get something with more options, that was healthier and more transparent, so that students could read the ingredients of what they were eating, according to Cadorette who graduated in 2011.

“Almost [all the students] said that they would want changes to happen,” Cadorette said. “A lot of them were in regards to the quality of the food.”

The same year, Cadorette and, at the time, recent Emerson grad, David Coman-Hidy worked with students who petitioned the college to only to use cage-free eggs, a change that the school implemented in 2011.

After over a decade with Aramark and student complaints, Emerson switched its dining hall provider to the current company, Sodexo, in the fall of 2013.

Even with this switch to Sodexo, many similar complaints from the student body have arisen. This year, sophomore Brigitte Bakalar started an online petition demanding higher quality food and lower prices, which now has over 500 signatures.

Both Pierce Saulnier and Smith teach Fundamentals of Speech Communication to freshman, and said they are astounded by the amount of speeches written about the dining hall. Saulnier said for one assignment around half the class pitched speeches to improve the quality.