In my freshman year of college, few things brought me more joy than Selleck Dining Hall’s Thursday smoothie bar.
It was a little-known occurrence — like a speakeasy, but with smoothies. From 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Thursday afternoons, Selleck workers set up a table of fruit, yogurt, milk and juice, operated by a man who wielded a blender like a paintbrush. After back-to-back classes, I’ve never known relief like a Selleck smoothie.
When the Selleck smoothie bar, along with the rest of Selleck’s traditional dining options, disappeared at the beginning of 2020, I assumed nothing of it. After all, the replacement options of to-go stations made sense against the looming tide of COVID-19.
But this year, the realization set in. The smoothie bar was gone forever.
This fall, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln officially opened the new Selleck Food Court, made entirely of to-go vendors accessible through the Transact Mobile Ordering app. This change would be permanent. Selleck Dining Hall was officially a memory of the past.
As I spent my sophomore year grabbing chicken baskets and cobb salads, I couldn’t help but think of my first year at Selleck and the convenience of the traditional dining setting. Smoothies aside, the old dining hall had places to sit with friends or study while eating. I could always grab as much or as little food as I wanted. And as someone who cares a lot about the environment, I also kept thinking about all the plastic containers flowing out of the new Selleck every minute.
We always champion the new and exciting here at UNL, constantly envisioning new innovations to make to campus and showing off these innovations when they finally begin to unfold. But are they really better? Or sometimes, does the flash just distract us from the flaws underneath?
Consider the new Selleck Food Court the ultimate definition of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix.” Not only does the renovation fail to offer anything unique to students, it raises concerns about UNL’s commitment to environmental sustainability. Though perhaps originally promising, this update fails to address any genuine dining concerns. Instead, it creates new ones.
When I first learned about the Selleck Food Court, the idea had actually been circulating for a few years. University Dining Services associate director Dave Annis first introduced to the student body in 2019. Compared to today’s reality, Annis’ vision of the food court is not far off — six or so venues that students can access for only to-go options.
Annis also received an endorsement from the ASUN president at the time, Emily Johnson, who the article said, “will vouch for anything that expands student access, increases options for students and promotes sustainability.”
This is where the reality falls apart.
Back in 2019, the argument would’ve stood. The Selleck Food Court would increase options, allowing students to use their meal plans for to-go vendors. However, since the 2020-21 school year, students can now pay for meals at the Union through Dining Dollars and the Transact Mobile Ordering app. So yes, back in 2019 this idea would’ve been innovative, but while the logistics of the new food court were pondered and delayed, the university moved beyond it.
In the 2019 article, Annis also mentions longer hours, especially the ability “to extend them to late night.” This would certainly be different than other dining halls, with the typical center closing around 8 p.m. and Union vendors closing throughout the evening, with Imperial Palace winding down at 9 p.m.
Except the new Selleck Food Court doesn’t actually offer any late-night options. It closes at the exact same time as traditional halls — 8 p.m. Though the idea of late-night Qdoba sounds promising — and I’m sure back in 2019 it was a very real idea — once again the reality falls flat.
In fact, the new food court seems to take away more opportunities than it grants. By stripping Selleck of the traditional dining hall feel — think buffet lines, salad bars, and omelet stations — it completely eliminates that option from the center of campus. Selleck is by far the most central dining hall, opposed to Cather and Abel on 17th Street, Harper on the northern tip of campus and East Campus Dining on a completely separate campus. Because of this, it’s the favorite choice of commuter students or really just anyone sandwiched by classes. By eliminating the option of traditional dining at Selleck, students that want to sit down and eat their lunch on a plate must walk blocks to the nearest option or resign themselves to Qdoba.
However, traditional dining isn’t just important just because of unlimited chicken tenders or dessert bars, though they are both enticing. From an environmental perspective, traditional dining produces far less plastic waste. Walk into Selleck Food Court and you’ll see open racks of dozens of plastic food containers, coated paper cups and dozens of plastic silverware sets coated in, you guessed it, plastic.
Now, Selleck has taken measures to combat the sheer amount of plastic waste. First, I’ve noticed a couple meal options come in cardboard containers, usually those from Selleck Cafe. Another sustainable option exists through the use of Ozzi containers. A project through UNL’s Environmental Sustainability Committee, Ozzi containers were brought to the university to make to-go options, such as Selleck’s, a bit more earth-friendly.
However, these containers still aren’t a good enough supplement for traditional dining. First, UNL Dining Services requests that all Ozzi containers are washed out before being returned, which is inconvenient for students on the go or for commuters. Second, there is no sustainable alternative to plastic silverware offered at Selleck, so even by using an Ozzi container, each meal still contributes some amount of plastic waste. Third, only about half of Selleck’s venues offer Ozzi containers as an alternative. Others, Qdoba included, never even give students the option on their app.
Finally, we can’t indulge in the fantasy that every student regularly chooses this sustainable alternative. People gravitate towards the convenient. The problem is that instead of making the convenience a sustainable option — reusable plates, cups and silverware — the Selleck renovations empower wasteful alternatives.
So, let’s take a second. $4.4 million later, what’s the point of all the paragraphs above? After all, it’s easy to complain about something after the planning’s done and the construction’s near complete. In all sincerity, my intention is not to undermine the meticulous work completed by the hundreds of people who had a hand in this project, the culmination of every possible good intention.
Instead, with respect and compassion, I lay this comment at the decision-makers’ feet: in the competition to be the newest and shiniest university, don’t forget that your current, actual students crave authenticity and practicality more than anything.
Fancy glass buildings, unnecessarily expensive football facilities and unlimited Qdoba won’t bring the kind of students to your university who will give back to it. Instead of focusing on the flashy, take a look out at your tired, caffeine-addicted student population, and help them out.
And bring back smoothie bars. That’s also important.
Emma Krab is a junior English and journalism major. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.