If you were to walk past the Jester City Limits dining hall inside Jester West Residence Hall right now, you’d see a small piece of paper announcing the dining hall had closed on Oct. 5, 2020. This announcement seemed to come out of nowhere, and understandably, students were immediately confused by the news.
At first, the closure of JCL seemed like a negative thing to me. My immediate thoughts ran to freshmen living in Jester Center, who will now have one less place to use their meal plan money. Then, I wondered if the employees working at JCL were being laid off, and if so, how they would be compensated during these hard times.
After speaking with Rene Rodriguez, dining director at University Housing and Dining, my fears quickly dissipated. The closing of JCL will protect the students living in Jester from being exposed to COVID-19. This decision also helps JCL employees rather than hurting them, as I originally thought.
When making a change as drastic as this, UHD should go to greater lengths to thoroughly communicate the changes being made with the students living in Jester. Not all students have the same privilege as that of a student journalist, who is able to schedule interviews and collect information directly from the source.
“(UHD) did not send anything to inform us of the changes, even now, and I just checked my email,” business freshman Averie Piatt said. “I never heard the reason why they were closing either. I wish they would have told us why because we are paying a lot for dining.”
Since the pandemic began to change life at UT back in March, the administration has often failed to properly communicate new policies to students.
Fears about spreading COVID-19 prompted changes to Jester dining.
After taking recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Restaurant Association and meeting with several other universities, UT decided that touch points like salad bars or drink stations should be transitioned from self-serve stations to items that will instead be served to students.
“If we had been full with every student that had planned on coming back on campus, we figured there was no way we could serve our population with only (Jester 2nd Floor Dining),” Rodriguez said. “We had to figure out how we were going to serve more students, so we converted JCL into an unlimited meal plan too.”
However, the student population that came back to Jester was much lower than UHD expected. Because of the lack of students in Jester, UHD had to rearrange the locations in which the staff would work.
One of the reasons UT decided to close JCL was to ensure all former JCL employees stayed employed.
“With the closing of JCL, we did move those employees up to the second floor,” Rodriguez said. “JCL was only serving about 200 students a day. Because of this, a lot of employees were being underutilized.”
UT has received criticism about their treatment of their staff, especially custodians, during the pandemic. However, the decision to close JCL should reassure students that UT is committed to taking proper care of their employees. If UHD had been more upfront and transparent with the reasoning behind their decision, they would be able to prohibit future criticism about their treatment of their staff.
Although it may seem like a negative thing at first, the closing of JCL is in students’ best interest because it reduces the chances of COVID-19 spreading throughout Jester. Regardless, UHD should explain the changes being made to those living in Jester in order to ensure students are informed and to avoid miscommunication.
York is a rhetoric and writing junior from Laredo, Texas.