If you were to ask me what my largest qualm with Vanderbilt Campus Dining was, I would not say the lines or the constant closures or even the lack of choices. While I believe all of these are areas the administration needs to address, there is something I am even more disappointed to have witnessed:
Vanderbilt Campus Dining made us – the student body – feel ignored.
We can feel demoralized when the booming calls to improve our dining experience seemingly continue to go unheard. In spite of this feeling, we do have power. Still, it can be difficult and nerve racking to take a stand, so listed below are the MCL Top 5 Tips on how you can bring about change in Vanderbilt Campus Dining.
1. Identify Where Your Message is Going
Knowing whom you want to receive your message is vital to success. In most cases, you typically want you message to reach those who have the ability to make changes. It can be easy to see Campus Dining as a singular entity, but it is a organization of people with all different types of jobs. The dining staff we interact with every day is a very different group than those who are actually making the decisions. Complaining to those who are subject to Vanderbilt Campus Dining’s administrative decisions, like students and much of the dining staff, will have little effect. You have to direct your message to the administration itself.
2. Know What You Want
This seems like such a simple idea, but many of us forget to consider the end goal. Almost all of us want Vanderbilt’s dining experience to be better, but “making something better” is not a substantive policy change. Do you want shorter lines? More choices? Longer hours? Whatever it is that you want changed, be clear about it. If you are worried about a number of issues, state each one explicitly. Furthermore, offer suggestions when possible. Even if a solution to one of the dining problems seems obvious to you, tell them anyways. There is always a chance they have yet to think of that fix.
3. Assume Campus Dining is Acting Rationally
For my fellow social science majors out there, you have probably heard this one before. Vanderbilt Campus Dining is not operating with evil intent; they simply have an approach moving forward that many of us find detrimental. Always remember that there is a reason they are making these changes. We may think it is a poor reason, but it is a reason nonetheless. If you cannot figure out the rationale (or even if you believe you have figured it out), the best way to begin a conversation with them is to ask “why”. I know it may seem a little odd, but in most cases you get one of two types of responses:
- You get a reasonable response that makes sense. If what they say is reasonable, feel free to ask follow up questions and offer suggestions, but I would avoid being overly combative. It is also okay to let an issue go and move on to something else. Some fight are not worth having, and there are plenty of other issues that need addressing.
- You get a poorly developed response. This is the time explain you position. If you notice a flaw in their response, cordially bring it to light. In most scenarios, I would pose it in the form of another question, but it is up to your judgement call. However you choose to respond, proceed respectfully.
4. Acknowledge When They do Something Good
Not everything Campus Dining has done in the past few months has been bad. We can sometimes get into a mindset of constant combat and rebuttal, but sometimes one of the most effective strategies to affect change is through positive reinforcement. It is often easier for an organization to do more of something that they are already doing than to develop a whole new system. A compliment is also more likely to be stand out in the barrage of critiques Campus Dining is receiving.
5. Publicize Your Opinion
This is the key to any successful movement. No matter how upset we are, nothing will change if we fail to share our thoughts. Every email written, every post made, every petition signed brings us a step closer to the version of Campus Dining we want to see. The best part of this strategy is that everyone can participate to their own comfort level. It does not matter if you create a petition or just sign it, every little bit helps.
After writing this piece, I hope not to leave anyone with the wrong impression. I am proud to be a Vanderbilt student. It is exactly because of this pride I want to see this school become the best it can. Over the summer, Vanderbilt University required the Class of 2025 to read the book When Breath Becomes Air, in which it is stated “You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.” Although I have not been on campus for a full month yet, it is clear Vanderbilt is pushing us to hold ourselves to this standard. We should ask the same of them.