Dining Services concerns breed e-mail chaos

Ally Taylor

One e-mail sent by one student concerning one campus issue has caused one major problem. An e-mail sent to distribution lists Tuesday night about Dining Services’ removal of food with trans fats sparked over 200 replies, most of which had nothing to do with the original message.

What was originally meant to be one e-mail generating interest among students about the changes in food services at the University snowballed into a long string of reply-all messages with a range of subjects, including responses to the original e-mail, roommates trying to order a pizza and obscenities and personal attacks.

“The bigger issue is what I would call a lack of mutual respect for other people, and that concerns me,” said Rev. John Stack, O.S.A., vice president for Student Life.

UNIT received notification of the problem Wednesday morning and researched what could be done to stop the mass influx of e-mails from being sent, Chief Information Officer Stephen Fugale said. After reviewing all options, UNIT turned off the Core Humanities Seminar distributions lists between 2 and 3 p.m., preventing anyone from sending further reply-all messages.

Fugale said that approximately 200 messages were sent to this mass distribution list but that this number did not take into account messages sent with subjects other than replies to the initial e-mail.

Due to the drastic number of e-mails sent out earlier in the day, the e-mail system experienced complications, but UNIT never intentionally shut down the system, despite rumors circulating campus.

“When you can’t get the e-mails you need, it’s pretty annoying,” senior Eileen Keane said.

Most likely, an e-mail will be sent to all students warning them about the abuse of the e-mail system, Fugale said, calling this incident “the poorest display of Villanova you could possibly have.”

According to the e-mail usage policy on UNIT’s Web site, “Use of distribution lists or ‘reply-all’ features of e-mail should be carefully considered and only used for legitimate purposes as per these guidelines … Any inappropriate e-mail … is prohibited,” including obscene, harassing or threatening messages.

Stack could not comment on specific repercussions, but he said that the e-mails will be forwarded to Public Safety, who will look at the content, determine on a case-by-case basis if any violations occurred and report back to Student Life, who will discuss what disciplinary action, if any, is necessary.

Mass e-mail incidences have occurred on campus once or twice before, Stack said, but those died quickly and weren’t as extensive.

The e-mail incident began when sophomore Krystle Shafer sent out an unauthorized mass e-mail to students and faculty on the Fall ’03, ’04 and ’05 Core Humanities distribution lists, contacting all students who took or professors who taught these classes.

Shafer said she wanted to inform students of Dining Services’ ongoing initiative to remove foods with partially hydrogenated oil and trans fats from all dining facilities, most noticeably in Second Storey and Donahue Market. She wanted to see if others were equally unhappy about the changes.

“I didn’t expect them to hit ‘reply-all’ at all,” Shafer said. “I was very clear that people should reply to me.”

She later sent another e-mail apologizing for starting the situation and contacted UNIT and Dean of Students Paul Pugh on Wednesday.

“I went because I felt bad, and I wanted to see if there was anything I could do,” Shafer said.

Shafer noted that she received hate mail from people angry about the situation.

“I was the scapegoat for the 100-something e-mails that were sent out,” she said.

However, not all students agree with the tactics she used to reach the student body.

“If people want to organize against what’s going on, there’s a much better way than through e-mail,” sophomore Joseph Negri said.

Students have started Facebook groups in response to the issue. One, called “Remember when that chick wanted her Doritos and everyone got lots of e-mail,” recalls the eventful evening.

“It wasn’t Doritos,” Shafer said. “It’s that Villanova should let students get involved in decisions that affect them. “

Director of Dining Services Timothy Dietzler said that the elimination of trans fats has been an ongoing process that is a part of three initiatives designed to provide healthier food options. Dining Services did not have a formal ad campaign to inform students of the changes, but Dietzler said that they worked with an SGA group, surveyed students on the changes and posted information on their Web site.

Dietzler said that they received positive feedback for their initiative from faculty, staff and students during meetings and panel discussions on other subjects.

The other two initiatives involve the availability of organic foods, particularly in the September 2006 addition of the Belle Aire Terrace organic salad bar, and a greater emphasis on offering fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables in the dining halls.

Some of these changes began about a year ago with the switch to a trans fat-free soybean oil used to cook French fries and are continuing with the removal of foods with trans fats from the campus markets over the past four to five weeks. Some of these snacks include On The Border tortilla chips and Tastykakes, which have been replaced with organic tortilla chips and Entenmann’s baked goods.

“We’re trying to look at the health of our students,” Dietzler said. “At the same time, this sends a message to manufacturers that this is important to Villanova.”

Some foods with trans fats remain on the shelves, either because they have not sold out yet or because a suitable product has not been found to replace them. Foods were not completely removed from the shelves unless more healthy replacements could be found, Dietzler said.

Though the shelves look bare now, this is not because foods are being removed, Dietzler said. After spring break the markets will be fully stocked, helping to make the switch to healthier options.

These switches have not impacted any contract agreements, Dietzler said.

Not all students agreed with the changes implemented by Dining Services.

“I think it’s Dining Services’ responsibility to serve healthy food at the dining halls, but at the markets it should be up to the students,” sophomore Ashley Ferguson said.

Other institutions across the country are taking similar initiatives, mainly based on publications from the FDA and from Harvard School of Medicine, who has suggested that trans fats be eliminated from the diet completely, Dietzler said. The City of Philadelphia has approved bans of trans fats from restaurants.

“We’re just staying ahead of the curve,” Dietzler said.

While one e-mail was never intended to wreak havoc across Villanova’s campus, it certain has people talking … and e-mailing.