Cafe Mac and Residential Life experience staffing transitions

Chloe Vasquez and Ellen Patrickson

Macalester staff find themselves both gaining and missing a few colleagues as the spring semester begins. While Macalester welcomes its new Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Kathryn Coquemont, and new Dean of the Faculty Tom Halverson, other departments struggle with vacancies. Bon Appetit and Residential Life, specifically, have lost essential staff and are working hard to maintain quality services during the transition. 

Residential Life’s interim director, Marian Aden, as well as three out of five hall directors, resigned as the fall semester drew to a close. As some Residential Assistants (RAs) leave for study away or step down, the remaining members of Residential Life staff take on extra responsibilities to train replacements and keep things running. The two remaining hall directors, MaKaila Knight-Allder and Zachary Smith, have each taken on an additional section of campus, essentially doubling the number of students under their care. 

“Students will notice [the losses],” Knight-Allder said. “Each member builds relationships with their residents … and now there are two people trying to do the work of four. There’s a whole area that doesn’t have hall directors assigned to it.”

For the time being, Residential Life is relegating some responsibilities to other authorities on campus to keep up with the workload, calling on Student Affairs and athletics to help address student conduct cases. Meanwhile, Residential Life is frantically searching for replacements. This past Monday and Wednesday, Macalester held interviews for the position of Assistant Dean for Residential Life.

“I am hoping that the level of quality doesn’t go down [during this transition period] and that residents still feel connected to their communities,” Knight-Allder said. “As long as that remains the same, I think we can manage until we get some new folks.” 

The pandemic hit Cafe Mac and its staff particularly hard, as well. As the demanding work environment weighed on staff and COVID-19 exacerbated health and food shortage concerns, many workers chose to resign. Cafe Mac Floor Supervisor Jabari Pierre estimates that around 15 student workers left the team. 

After two years of working at Cafe Mac from 2019 up until the end of 2021, Chef Brennan Persenaire Hogeterp 23 stated that he was one of 5 original workers. Besides the pressures from COVID-19, Hogeterp also cited difficult supervisors and low pay as causes for people leaving. According to Hogeterp, many chefs can easily find jobs that pay $18 per hour, yet many Bon Appetit employees at Cafe Mac only make about $15 per hour. 

These staffing issues posed a strain on Cafe Mac along with supply chain issues caused by COVID-19, but despite these challenges, Hogeterp assessed that the quality of food has largely remained the same. Initially, during the fall 2020 semester, the low on-campus student population allowed Cafe Mac to focus on flavors and expand areas like the Plant Forward section, and if there were breaks in supply lines they could adjust to it. 

However, with an increased demand as everyone returned to campus, and supply chain issues and the ongoing staffing shortages, that standard became difficult to maintain. 

According to Hogeterp, the chefs and servers at Cafe Mac are passionate about the food they prepare and work hard to make high-quality food students will enjoy. However, under the current circumstances of supply chain interruptions and staff shortages, Hogeterp says the challenges can be a strain on employees’ mental health. 

“[Many employees are] working for the same pay as they were before COVID-19 but they’re doing the job of two to three other people,” Hogeterp said. 

Looking forward, he estimates the situation will get better as the impacts from COVID-19 become milder. For now, he asks students to continue showing their appreciation for the staff at Cafe Mac and the food they prepare.

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