On July 15, Macalester Athletics Director Donnie Brooks emailed athletes and families detailing the plans, at the time, to return to play and practice in the fall. Ultimately, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) decided to cancel or postpone all competition through the end of the year. But all varsity athletics are holding practice in accordance with the Mac Stays Safer community agreement, so many of the plans for separate athlete housing, dining and on campus student-athlete life continued through module one.
Brooks wrote in the email that the Leonard Center (LC) would, “act as a hub for student-athletes who are on-campus during the day,” and that “there will be designated spaces for training, eating, studying, and socializing.”
“We will require all student-athletes to eat in the LC during phase one, and there will be dining options available (variety of options fit to meet the needs of our varsity athletes) at both Scotties and in the LC atrium,” Brooks wrote.
Though much of the information from the July 15 email is now outdated (like the plan to house athletes in the Drury Hotel, for example), the student-athlete “hub” in the LC continued through module one. Student-athletes eat at a buffet-style set up in the Schall Atrium on the second floor of the LC, and Scotties, a Café Mac satellite location which serves power bowls, is also available.
“Eating is one of the higher risk activities because you have to take your mask off,” Associate Vice President for Finance Patricia Langer said. “So everything we have in place put in place changes we make are all based around trying to reduce density and keep people safe.”
To maximize COVID safety during module one, student-athletes were required to eat only in the LC and all on-campus varsity athletes lived in Kirk Hall, creating some social divides among the first-year class.
This division culminated in a post on the now-deleted @macmeme.s Instagram page in October, on which an anonymous student posted memes related to Macalester student life. The post read, “anytime i see an athlete in cafe mac [sic],” and depicted a person dressed as a sheriff surrounded by angry emojis and small explosion illustrations, with a caption that read “[don’t worry] we’re still anti-cop.” In a later post, the owner of the meme account stated that they posted this meme because student-athletes eating in Café Mac violates the Mac Stays Safer Community Commitment.
Soon, over 90 comments were posted below the meme with some athletes expressing frustration with the generalization of student-athletes at Macalester and some non-athletes replying that certain teams are “problematic.” Other comments expressed frustration with the lack of variety in options for students with dietary restrictions in the LC, noting that some student-athletes supplemented their diets at Café Mac and other satellite locations such as the Grille. The meme page was deleted soon after.
General Manager of Bon Appetít at Macalester Amy Jackson has heard about all these issues and more from students. She and Catering Director Robert Bowman placed a suggestion box in the LC atrium dining area earlier in the module that invited students to recommend better dining options for student-athletes.
From that box they have received suggestions to serve milk at every meal and increase the amount and variety of fresh fruit available in the LC. There are also notes thanking Bon Appetít employees for carting the food over every day.
While Bon Appetít is working to create a second Café Mac in the LC, Jackson warns students that it will never be exactly the same because the LC doesn’t have a kitchen. All food in the LC is prepared in the Campus Center (CC) and carted to the LC atrium where it’s served. Jackson describes it as a long-term catering operation.
“It is, at the end of the day, a catering event basically,” Jackson said. “I think a lot of perceptions and misconceptions about how we’re doing what we’re doing is that there’s not a way to cook over [at the LC].”
Planning for this began over the summer when Macalester’s plan for the fall first included a separate “hub” for student-athletes.
“When Bon Appetít found out that this is what the college was asking us, to feed all the athletes separately, we said ‘wow this is really going to be an undertaking’ because they’re really asking us to create like a mini Café Mac, but it’s a catering event,” Jackson said.
The nature of a mini Café Mac means that sometimes there are fewer options or food must come prepackaged. For some students the lack of food options — especially for those with dining restrictions such as dairy or gluten-free and vegan — has been hard to navigate.
“I’m vegan, so at first it was a bit challenging because everyone was still adjusting,” cross-country athlete Lola Scarpone ’24 said. “A lot of the food is carted over from Café Mac, so making sure that there are the same options was difficult. It’s been getting better. They’ve made a really big effort to make sure everyone has options.”
However, the largest concern for many student-athletes is the lack of opportunity to socialize and bond with non-athlete students at Café Mac and other dining locales. While some student-athletes have been finding these connections with non-athlete students, it’s harder when they can’t eat together.
“There’s so much drama going on between athletes and non-athletes and I’ve heard it from both sides,” MCSG first-year representative and cross-country runner Mariah Loeffler-Kemp ’24 said. “I think it’s really important for us to try and bridge that divide because I think a lot of it just comes from misunderstanding each other and like not knowing each other on a personal level.”
Jackson and Langer are aware that students have some complaints about the current dining system.
“Hearing from the athletes they want options that are outside of eating at the [Schall] Atrium in the Leonard Center,” Langer said. “We heard some things early on and made some changes. Then Robert [Bowman] put in a suggestion box. We’re using a lot of feedback from that to add things, change things.”
From those suggestions, Langer learned that students felt they couldn’t customize food with condiments and sauces, so in the coming module the LC will offer more opportunities to do so while remaining COVID-safe.
“It’s important to keep the athletes and non-athletes separated just for COVID reasons but I do think they could give us more options,” Loeffler-Kemp said. “We just don’t have some simple things like peanut butter so that’s frustrating and also we don’t have a lot of like grab-and-go fruits. So that’s really annoying when you’re trying to fuel your body in a good way to be athletic and to go to your practice.”
Jackson also voiced sympathy for student-athletes who are feeling socially isolated from the rest of campus because of these restrictions. She acknowledged that catering can feel less fresh and personal than the Café Mac experience, for example student-athletes don’t have the option of wood-fired pizzas.
“It’s one thing to be on the receiving end of a catering event,” Jackson said. “It’s another to be a student-athlete on the receiving end of this is my meal plan. I’m eating three meals a day in the same location and I’m being told that I can’t eat by my friends and I don’t see the cooks with fresh ingredients.”
In response to these student suggestions and complaints, Macalester administration and Bon Appetít made several changes to dining options for student-athletes in module two.
Brooks initially announced these changes in an email to student-athletes on Oct. 19. Effective immediately and through the end of the fall semester, student-athletes will be able to use an ordering function on the GET app (Bon Appetít’s dining app) to order food from the Grille between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. This will provide student-athletes with both a late-night food option and the opportunity to use Flex Points, a currency that students can use to buy on-campus food.
Additionally, beginning the first day of module two, Oct. 28, student-athletes can order food for pick-up at all Café Mac satellites — the Atrium in the CC, the Loch and the Grille.
And finally, the LC atrium and Scotties will now offer more food options including more protein offerings, fresh fruits and vegetables and more condiments. Langer hopes to continue the conversation with student-athletes to further expand their dining options and opportunities to break out of the “athlete bubble.”
“I’m very excited,” Langer said. “I hope that adding the late-night piece and then being able to add during the daytime access to all of the sites will help add variety and give students a sense of more control.”