When I was waiting in line for my order at dinner time, the steady influx of students at Chase threw the staff member making our orders for a loop. The staff member, who requested to be anonymous, was incredibly tired, missing orders and asked for our patience. I struck up a conversation with them, where they explained that they were incredibly overworked because they were understaffed, and, of course, were dealing with the usual supply-chain issues that Chase encounters routinely.
Although it is not in Chase’s hands, the staff members usually have to bear the brunt of criticism and negativity from Wheaton students, they explained. They told me that they are so tired they might need to take a day off this week just to rest a little. I did what I could at that time—gave them the space to express their feelings, a sympathetic smile, and a ‘thank-you’ for my order… and kept an eye out for any entitled students so I could glare at them.
The Wire has done many pieces on Chase, mostly leaning towards the supply-problems with vendors and a lack of fresh produce. This time, I thought I could go in from a different angle. I had already seen tired staff members who did not want to work here, and students who were getting sick because of the food or disliked the taste so much they started making their own meals in their dorms. I wanted to learn more about the individual staff members, how they felt about working at Chase, their working conditions, and their interactions with students.
After speaking with the evening manager Shawn, I interviewed many of the evening staff. One of the people I spoke with, who has been working in dining services for about a year, said, “working here is quite boring, but I don’t mind working here at all.” When asked about the morale at Chase, they said “I think it is pretty bad, honestly. At least three or five times a shift I hear people complaining about wanting to go home, and I want to go home too. It is really tiring being here and so many students come and we prepare so much food. The main reason why morale is so low is because we are constantly putting food out. Most students here are really nice but others are really entitled and ungrateful, so seeing that entitlement is discouraging. I can hear people asking for very specific requests or sometimes hear people saying the food we are putting up is gross. A lot of people throw away a ton of food too.”
However, that was about last I heard about food wastage, entitled students, and work fatigue. I interviewed more staff members, who all gave me the same answers: “I love to work here because of the student interactions and getting to know the community.” When asked about food changes, it was either “we are working on making some changes to the menu including adding some more ice cream options,” or “once we get all our ingredients together we will be able to come up with more variety.” All staff members said they had encountered entitled students and said yes to my question rather quickly, but then proceeded to change their answers and report that they personally had never encountered students who were rude to them.
One staff member acknowledged that they will get some impatient or ungrateful students, but would try to be extra kind to them or make jokes to coax a smile. “I try to remember the regulars and I try to remember their orders if I can. Everyone is very nice and patient, and I think everyone is happy with the food.”
Only when I had the chance to talk to one staff member for a long time, without any other staff members nearby, did I get less diplomatic answers. A longtime staff member stated that they wished they got paid more due to seniority. Yet, I got the same answers from everyone I interviewed—they loved to work here, they loved the students and seeing them graduate, and although they were quick to say there are a lot of entitled students or they do work long, hard shifts, they would not elaborate.
I wanted to showcase their stories and do what we could as a newspaper to help other students connect with our staff and help make their days easier given the conversations I had and overheard with them. I came out of the interviews with a sense that something was being hidden, that they were not being honest or open. Maybe it was me asking for permission to record their voices to help me write this article. Or it was apprehension about spilling the beans assuming nothing would be done. But who could blame them? Their jobs and comfort with other staff members is more important than a kid writing for the school newspaper hoping she could be of help to them. I brought no guarantees, just asked if they were comfortable with sharing their experiences.
They did give me a takeaway, though. Maybe they were just being completely honest, and the conversations I had and the testimonies I overheard were just bad days, or anomalies in the Chase operations system. Maybe I was looking to share a perspective that didn’t exist. One thing they would like to tell our readers is, “we do really try to give our students the best food we can and have a smile on our faces and give the best service possible. But it is really tiring to work in such a large operation and [work] so hard, so we do care but it may not seem like it sometimes on the outside.”
So, dear readers, although I may have failed in my mission to understand the real lives of the staff members, I did come away with something important. We are a college of about two thousand people coming into Chase for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That is a lot of food. Food that is being made especially for us. A little gratitude and kindness goes a long way, especially for the lovely staff that is truly working so hard for us.