Kallie McKenzie had seen enough.
She’d heard students direct passive-aggressive comments about long lines to Campus Dining employees. She’d seen students refuse to put their mask on after CDS employees asked them to do so. She’d watched students not clean up after themselves in dining areas, saying that CDS workers could do it instead.
“It was just really personally upsetting to me,” McKenzie, a sophomore Spanish and biomedical sciences major, said. “So I came to Preston [Arment with the Student Engagement office] with the idea of somehow organizing an event to show appreciation and show thankfulness to Campus Dining [workers] and show them that, even though there are bad experiences, there are people out there who really do appreciate them and who are so grateful for the services that they provide.”
So McKenzie and Arment, a graduate student studying higher education and student affairs administration, set up two tables in the Student Union and covered them with construction paper, art supplies and free lemonade. They then encouraged passing students to make thank you cards for CDS workers. Over the course of three afternoons during Random Acts of Kindness Week, students made 226 cards, featuring drawings, messages of encouragement and lots of food puns.
“We actually helped one student write a pun about lettuce,” McKenzie said. “It was like ‘Lettuce rejoice for Campus Dining,’ which was a lot of fun to brainstorm with them.”
McKenzie and Arment were inspired to hold the UB Kind event after making personal thank you cards for CDS employees for a similar, smaller Student Engagement project in October. McKenzie, who said CDS employees made her “feel like family” last year when most of her classes were online, recalls giving a card to one of her favorite CDS employees, Smiley.
“He started crying and he hugged me,” McKenzie said. “And I started crying too because when people start crying, I start crying, and it was a really moving moment. I couldn’t believe that this gratitude hadn’t been expressed before.”
But for as simple as their idea was, scaling it up to include hundreds of students involved “a lot of moving pieces,” according to Arment.
McKenzie and Arment staffed the tables, passed out pamphlets with tips on how to treat CDS employees with respect, reviewed all of the cards for quality, recruited student ambassadors from UB’s new Freedom of Assembly Support Team and rebranded their lemonade cans to resemble those featured in the Disney Channel movie “Lemonade Mouth,” in an effort to play on students’ nostalgia.
They also collaborated with Campus Dining and Shops, which provided print materials, signage and suggestions and distributed the cards to CDS employees, according to Mary Jo Butler, a general manager at Campus Dining and Shops.
Butler said CDS employees were “very appreciative” of the cards and “the engagement of the larger community.”
“Even the smallest of kind acts are encouraging and valued,” Butler said.
And although McKenzie and Arment didn’t get to distribute the cards themselves, they did get to interact with “a couple” of CDS workers while staffing their tables.
“We did have some students walk up to us, and they were like, ‘Wait, I’m a dining worker,’” Arment said. “They were excited to see that someone was out here doing something like that.”
Arment, who is a graduate assistant for Student Engagement, will graduate at the end of the year, but McKenzie hopes to make this an “annual tradition” and change the culture surrounding Campus Dining.
“I would hope that it’s a start,” McKenzie said. “Obviously a lot of the students who came to our table are people who already appreciate Campus Dining, but I would hope that [we’re] helping students… [realize that] this is a Campus Dining worker and, yes, ‘I have a meal plan,’ but also this is a human and somebody who’s worthy of dignity, worthy of respect, worthy of you taking your headphones out while you’re ordering, looking at them and saying, ‘Hello, how are you?’ Those are things that are small, but I think that they make a difference.”
Grant Ashley is a senior news/features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Grant Ashley is the editor in chief of The Spectrum. He's also reported for WBFO, WIVB and The Buffalo News. He enjoys taking long bike rides, baking with his parents’ ingredients and recreating Bob Ross paintings in crayon. He can be found on the platform formerly known as Twitter at @Grantrashley.