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As part of ResX, this fall marks the launch of Stanford’s groundbreaking new Neighborhood model, which reorganizes existing student housing to emphasize well-being and connectedness.

Viewpoint: How campus dining supports Stanford’s new neighborhood model

Stanford University is poised to fulfill the community/connection/equity/inclusion-fostering vision of its new “Neighborhood” model through the expansion of its meal program.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Food Management.

Now, more than ever, is a time we need to bring community to the Stanford University campus and ResX is a new, comprehensive vision for the undergraduate residential experience at Stanford to do just that. As part of ResX, this fall marks the launch of the University’s groundbreaking new Neighborhood model, which reorganizes existing student housing to emphasize well-being and connectedness.

Our neighborhoods are places where thriving friendships, personal authenticity, and communal support are cultivated throughout a student’s undergraduate career. Each neighborhood was designed to be a student’s home at Stanford and we are encouraging every student to make it theirs.

The eight neighborhoods each have a central gathering place with access to advising, meeting space and dining options, and students moving into each neighborhood for the first time will establish their own themes, traditions, mascots, crests and swag. Each neighborhood will also be tasked with creating a community that is racially and socially just, and that promotes well-being and personal growth.

“With this transformation of housing into ResX neighborhoods, the University has also shown the ultimate vote of confidence in the expertise of our campus dining program,” says Eric Montell, executive director for R&DE (Residential & Dining Enterprises) Stanford Dining. The University recently announced that, also starting fall quarter, R&DE Stanford Dining will manage student dining in all 48 undergraduate residences that have dining venues, ensuring that every student has access to the award-winning meal program. This decision is a demonstration of two key realizations: First, the integral role of the meal plan in bringing the Neighborhood vision to life and, second, the numerous co-benefits that this shift in oversight provides to all students, and towards bringing the ResX vision to life.

The new Neighborhood meal plans are aligned with the core principles of ResX to advance diversity, equity and inclusion; to promote opportunities for community and belonging; and to support student health and well-being. Stanford strongly believes in community-building over meals, and this new program allows students the ease and flexibility to have these important connections and discussions while dining together.

It is clear in hearing from students in many focus groups, and looking at peer institutions, the conversations which occur over meals will form the center of Stanford’s Neighborhood communities. Neighborhood dining means that Stanford Dining will be able to support students throughout the entirety of their time as undergraduates and build lifelong eating habits that are more sustainable and healthy.

We are truly excited to be able to educate students on high-quality food experiences, and, by the transformative power of designing community-building experiences, help students build meaningful connections and impactful communities throughout their undergraduate years on campus. 

“This transition represents many different factors coalescing for this moment to occur: all the hard work by R&DE over the years building an exceptional dining program; the resilience and adaptability our organization has shown throughout the pandemic; and the university’s shift to the new Neighborhood model, which has been in the works for years and has now come to fruition as the next step in Stanford’s long journey to advance community-based, experiential, residential education,” says Dr. Shirley Everett, associate vice provost, R&DE, and senior advisor to the provost on equity and inclusion at Stanford. “As a whole, this is an incredibly exciting transition for R&DE, but more importantly, it represents many positive outcomes for the university and for our students.”

Importantly, the link between eating with others and enhanced well-being is borne out by research. For instance, in the 2017 study “Breaking Bread: the Functions of Social Eating,” published in the journal Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, Oxford researcher Dr. Robin Dunbar concludes, “those who eat socially more often feel happier and are more satisfied with life, are more trusting of others, are more engaged with their local communities, and have more friends they can depend on for support.”

This is vitally important given the proven connections between social connectedness and longevity, among numerous other health benefits, both short- and long-term. Furthermore, Dunbar explains, “A path analysis suggests that a causal direction runs from eating together to bondedness rather than the other way around.” This conclusion suggests that the same level of community and belonging cannot be achieved without food in the equation.

For students, the Neighborhood meal plan means greater affordability regardless of where they live. Low-income, first-generation students, or any student facing food insecurity, can now benefit from the singular, affordable meal plan as Stanford Dining was able to make the meal plans in the Row houses more affordable. The new meal program also provides students with greater flexibility, given the option to dine within the neighborhood or across campus, which they previously did not have.

This is particularly relevant at Stanford, because it is the second largest contiguous campus in the world. Not having to walk or bike back to a student’s residence for meals makes a difference when living on a campus with a large geographic footprint.

R&DE Stanford Dining brings the highest quality, global flavors and pioneering health and sustainability programs—for which it is nationally recognized—to every undergraduate student in the campus community. R&DE Stanford Dining prides itself on providing healthy, sustainable, delicious food choices embodying the Menus of Change Principles as part of its leadership of the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative to meet the wide variety of dietary needs and desires within our diverse Stanford community.

The Eat Well@Stanford program provides support to students dining with food allergies, religious requirements, medical diets, veganism/vegetarianism and other nutritional needs. Of critical importance is Stanford Dining’s CleanDining program, which was created to consistently meet all of the evolving expectations during the COVID-19 pandemic. CleanDining builds upon the already high standards of food safety and sanitation in the dining halls, utilizing industry best practices and enhanced cleaning protocols, and providing students with reassurance of the safety of their dining experience.

R&DE Stanford Dining has a long history of award-winning sustainability leadership, and our recently released One Plate, One Planet vision captures the full breadth of our pioneering sustainable food program, which represents bold, long-term commitments to climate action and racial equity. It celebrates the power of social consciousness, operational innovation and individual food choices in promoting sustainable food systems. We believe that with each plate we serve, and each meal our students eat, we have the opportunity to create a better future for this planet together.

Students can take pride in participating in a meal plan with an industry-leading Sustainable Food Ethos that guides our food purchasing decisions, the positive impact we have through our menu and operations (as captured in our Sustainable Food @Stanford By the Numbers infographic), and the practical tips we offer through the resource How to Eat Sustainably on Campus.

Sophie Egan is senior advisor for sustainable food systems for R&DE Stanford Dining

TAGS: Operations
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