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Let the Big Dawg Rap!

College foodservice directors are increasingly finding that web-based and social-networking activities of students can both support and threaten the reputations of their campus dining programs. And the rapid proliferation of incidents

A good example of the former—a student-generated rap video about dining at the University of Georgia’s Snelling Hall—has just appeared on YouTube. Hip, witty and amazingly well-produced, Snellebrate is the kind of interactive media few directors or schools would object to. If anything, it’s likely to have a significant impact on dining traffic patterns on the campus.

“I am always impressed by the creativity of our students,” says Mike Floyd, executive director of food services at UGA.

“I consider it a compliment that our customers wanted to do this,” he adds. “You just want to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.”

In that respect, Floyd’s department had a less satisfactory experience last year when another student group created a much less sophisticated video that many students and dining staff found inappropriate both in terms of its language and tone. He and others report they are finding it necessary to develop new policies and strategies for responding to negative online and social networking press when necessary.

For example, Floyd says that is established policy on his campus that students are not permitted to use cameras inside dining halls unless that obtain advance permission from his office.

“Even then, we never permit photos in the back of the house, and we require that when photography is shot in the servery areas the photographer must be accompanied by a member of our staff.,” he adds.

Other schools are developing responses as the prevalence of such issues increases. At “Are You Wired,” a NACUFS (National Association of College and University Food Services) pre-conference seminar held in July, numerous members of the audience reported that they and their dining departments were finding it necessary to monitor such activities.

Many of them said that maintaining a presence on Facebook and MySpace sites, and responding to student activities on those sites had become significant concernsfor their departments. Many had had positive results from using Facebook to implement dining promotions and to introduce new students to the dining programs and personnel on their campuses. Others said the were experimenting with audio and video podcasting, with varying results. Still others offered horror stories in which disgruntled customers used social networking programs to criticize dining programs and even dining staff members.

Seminar attendees shared strategies for coping with problematic online content.

“These new communications media do not replace existing media, but must be managed in addition to them,” observedd panelist, Crista Martin, director of marketing and communications for Harvard University Dining Services (see related story, @TEOTD, HUDS HTNOTH)

Another panelist, Associate Director of Student Programs Kim Badinelli from Virginia Tech, agreed,, adding, “At the same time, it’s something that can really increase your workload. We ended up creating a new position that, among other responsibilities, involves monitoring campus Facebook activity for 15 hours a week.”

“Still, we figured that if we didn’t monitor what was out there, we deserved what we got,” Badinelli concluded.

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