After students at The Citadel organized a large-scale boycott of the mess hall earlier this week, the college's president sent a campus-wide email outlining the changes cadets can expect to see in pest control and food quality moving forward.
Gen. Glenn Walters emailed students just before 8 a.m. Friday to provide a status report on changes the college has implemented for Coward Hall.
Last week, cadets spotted two rodents in the mess hall — one scampering up the side of a door frame and the other trapped inside the slot of an upright toaster. Cadets captured both incidents on video and posted them on social media where they quickly garnered widespread attention.
"The recent problems demonstrate we miss the mark at times. We will continue working this issue hard, but I need your help. Please use the measures our team has put into place to report problems so they are corrected on the spot," Walters said.
The email additionally discouraged cadets from going to the media.
"I understand why some have chosen to air concerns on social media or anonymous media interviews," he continued. "I would ask, as we expect in our military environment, you use your chain of command and established reporting methods to voice concerns. These are far more effective."
Cadets' complaints about the mess hall spanned far beyond the rodent sightings. Some posted complaints of undercooked chicken. Others alleged to have found foreign items, like hair or plastic, in their food.
To protest the conditions in the mess hall, unofficial Facebook pages like "El Cid Memes" and "Citadel Safari" became de facto organizers of a combination hunger strike/boycott of Coward Hall on Wednesday.
Walters said in his email that officials are working to improve conditions "along four lines of effort," including facility repairs and upgrades, pest control, food quality assurance measures and enhanced feedback and communication."
Col. John Dorrian, the college’s vice president of communication and marketing, said things in the mess hall have roughly returned to normal.
"There are plenty of cadets that are deciding to eat in the dining facility," Dorrian said.
He said as of Friday afternoon, more than 1,700 cadets had been served in the mess hall for breakfast and lunch.
Usually, the mess hall serves on average 2,000 cadets in that time frame, but Dorrian noted that lunch had not finished when the count was estimated.
"Traffic is not probably completely normal, but it's very close," he said.
The mess hall was given a 93 percent rating from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control the same day the second rodent was found in the toaster. It lost points under the rodent/pest category for a loading door with a gap at the bottom. The report noted the door was corrected, and Walters confirmed that the college installed measures on doors and loading areas that would reduce the possibility of rodents or insects getting in "whether open or not."
The college has a $63 million contract with its food service provider, Sodexo. Walters explained the college had retrained Sodexo staff on DHEC standards, policies and sanitation.
"The safety and security of the Citadel's students, faculty, staff and community are our top priorities. Yesterday, we met with the Department of Health and Environmental Control and the dining hall received an inspection score of 100. As an added precaution, we are reviewing our company's food safety policies and procedures with all staff," said Dasha Ross-Smith, a representative for Sodexo.
After the second rodent sighting, the college created a new email account, email@example.com, for cadets to immediately notify management of any mess hall problems.
"We had some early complaints and some of those were from parents or alumni that saw the viral videos on social media," Dorrian said, but no complaints were issued Friday.