A Return to Normalcy: Campuses Resume In-Person Dining for the Fall

The COVID-19 pandemic looms with concerns of the Delta variant, but college and university campuses seem to agree on one big move: a return to normalcy for the fall semester. This means in-person classes, events, and particularly in-person dining.

As was the case during the height of the pandemic, campuses will adopt their own unique approach to in-person dining according to local state and city guidelines. Penn State published a news release on its website announcing the return to in-person dining on Tuesday, serving “students, faculty, and staff for the fall semester, with plans underway to open at full capacity.”

“The first day COVID restrictions were lifted for Summer Session II, we saw students push tables together,” said Jim Meinecke, associate director of residential dining at Penn. “They were having a good time and they were comfortable. It was great to see them smiling and to see parents the first couple of days, happy to be on campus and out and about. We’re excited to see that on an even bigger scale in August.”

Other campuses will follow suit. Colorado State Universitythe University of Pittsburgh, West Virginia Universitythe University of Floridathe University of MiamiVanderbilt University, and countless others will resume or continue in-person dining after a limited rollout in the summer semester. Similar to those at Penn State, dining halls on campuses such as University of Pittsburgh will expand in-person dining with new menu options and enhanced amenities.

Some universities are utilizing campus dining resources to vaccinate students, administrators, and staff. Duke University has “arranged for vans to shuttle staff members in transportation and other units such as facilities, housekeeping, and dining to vaccination clinics on campus during their paid shift,” according to the university’s website. The efforts helped Helen Barnes, a 21-year veteran dining employee at Duke, get vaccinated.

“I have grandkids, and soon I’ll be around 1,800 students on East Campus, so I want to make sure they are all safe,” Barnes said in a quote for the post.

However, some new campus dining policies and changes have been met with criticism and pushback. At Syracuse University, students have rallied behind a petition against the university’s removal of meal swipe options that were temporarily put in place due to the pandemic to cut down on overcrowding. The Daily Orange, Syracuse University’s independent newspaper, published a Q&A responding to readers’ questions about the changes, as well as updates to SU’s meal plan pricing. And at Tufts, the Tufts Labor Coalition will host a rally today to support dining staff who were unemployed during the pandemic shutdowns.


  • Steve Chaplin

    Steve Chaplin is managing editor of ACUI’s The Bulletin and manager of the ACUI College Union and Student Activities (CUSA) Evaluation Program. A former newspaper writer, editor, and manager, he has volunteered as a student mentor as a member of the National Association of Science Writers, and received awards for his writing and reporting from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Kentucky Education Association, and the Kentucky Press Association.

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