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Students stuck in their dorms are exposing NYU's sad quarantine meals on TikTok— and demanding the school do better

New York University students who returned to campus this week are forced to quarantine in their dorms as part of the school's enhanced coronavirus safety protocols. The school is delivering all meals to students — but things haven't exactly gone smoothly. 

Over 2,600 students are not allowed to leave their residence halls for two weeks under a mandate from Governor Andrew Cuomo, and many of them are sharing the less-than-optimal meals they have received so far on TikTok. NYU students appear to have taken over the app — dozens have posted now-viral videos demanding the school improve its quarantine meal plan. 

According to the school, students living in dorms are meant to receive three meals each day, which arrive at their dorms in cardboard boxes and paper bags. They were asked to specify any allergies and dietary restrictions ahead of time.

In a video posted to TikTok that now has over 2.6 million views, freshman Madison Veldman showed what she received for breakfast: bottled water, a plain bagel in sealed packaging, a croissant in sealed packaging and grape juice in a plastic container. In another video, freshman Nautica Nolden said she got no breakfast or lunch — all three of her meals were delivered at 6 p.m., including dry cereal, "warm" orange juice, and a now-infamous salad consisting of watermelon and chicken. 

Some other food items highlighted in students' videos include bags of chips, pudding cups, lemons, granola bars, plain chicken, unripe fruit, cheese sticks and bread rolls. Many students requested vegetarian or vegan meals reported receiving meat products, including a "steak and cheese salad" and a "Moroccan spiced chicken bowl." 

Many students also say that their meals arrive at arbitrary times. Nolden told CBS News on Friday that the school has repeatedly failed to deliver her breakfast and lunch, so she has resorted to making a lot of her own food.

Nolden also said she, and many other students, ordered dinners through DoorDash, "but that gets to be pricey on our already high tuition." Several students pointed out that ordering take-out for two weeks is not feasible for low-income students. 

Many students said in follow-up videos that they did not want to come off as ungrateful and acknowledged that many Americans are experiencing food insecurity during the pandemic. But given NYU's infamously exorbitant tuition, students said they felt the school could do more. 

"We're not being ungrateful, it's just unsustainable," Veldman said.

@lilbabyaidyy

lunch and dinner all served at 4:30 🤩 ##nyuquarantine after the watermelon chicken salad this is great ##nyu woop woop

♬ original sound - lilbabyaidyy

Tara Shear, also a freshman, has shared several now-viral videos showing the random assortment of food she's received, including a stale muffin and spiced watermelon. Shear told CBS News on Friday that ordering delivery from local restaurants is far too expensive for most students in dorms. 

"Those of us who are dorming on campus are not the demographic of NYU students who can afford to quarantine off-campus in a hotel," Shear said. "When NYU told us we would be provided three meals a day free of charge, we assumed we would be getting fed properly, but many of us brought snacks in case we went hungry."

Shear said she has received many products that contain dairy despite having an allergy — a problem echoed by many students with dairy and gluten intolerances. She added that her dinner one night consisted of a bag of potato chips, two granola bars and a lemon. 

"These are not substantial meals," Shear said. "These are snacks."

Freshman Ricardo Sheler's video of his meal, which has over 1.8 million views, shows off his "chicken caesar salad" dinner, which included a bag of chips, an apple and salad dressing — but no salad. Sheler told CBS News on Friday that his dorm manager has now offered to personally deliver complimentary meals to students in his Brooklyn dorm. 

Students and New York residents have come together to support those who are most vulnerable, sending them money through Venmo, PayPal and Cashapp and dropping off baked goods at dorms. However, students said they would prefer to hold the school accountable for meals. 

@rico_da_fool

Chicken caesar salad but the chicken caesar salad is silent😌😌😌##nyutiktok ##nyu ##fyp ##expensive ##flex

♬ original sound - drydoodooflakes

NYU responded to the critiques Thursday, saying that it is disappointed in how its food vendor, Chartwells, has managed the process.

"We are aware of the students' complaints, which are valid," NYU spokesman John Beckman said in a statement. "This is a never-before-tried operation for us… But it is vital to get it right." 

Beckman said the school is implementing a number of changes, including ensuring meals are delivered earlier in the day, adding staff to handle complaints and to deliver food, dedicating staff to specifically handle meals with dietary specializations, bringing in another food service provider, and authorizing staff to give students money for delivery. 

"We recognize that when people are required to quarantine in their rooms by themselves, few things in the day are more important than looking forward to something nice to eat, so this is a particularly regrettable error, and a let-down for our students," Beckman said.

Some students reported receiving meals Friday morning, but Sheler said he and his roommates had not gotten any food as of 1:20 p.m. "So as of right now all changes are essentially performative and not practical," he said.

Nolden said she has seen that more students are receiving food on time, but said that they are still not substantial meals, typically consisting of fruit and a snack. 

NYU also sent students an apology letter Thursday night, gifting each of them a $100 e-card to order food delivery, which Sheler called a "cushion" that the school is using to buy itself more time. The letter did not address exactly how that system would work, and students said they have not yet received the credit.

"NYU is trying to help us, I suppose," Shear said. "It just isn't enough to cover our needs."

@tongaronga

CAN I PLEASE HAVE ONE (1) SUBSTANTIAL MEAL

♬ original sound - alien_boy_forest

Despite the food situation, many students say the school is handling the return to campus well, and implementing every possible safety measure to allow for a "normal" semester.

"I truly think we are doing insanely well," Shear said. "I personally was tested for COVID-19 immediately after moving in, and although the wait was long, not one student could be seen without a mask or not social distancing. As a community, we do not want to be sent home."

Many students said they are hopeful NYU won't have to send them home early, like many other schools have done, due to its strict policies. 

"Despite the food issues, I really appreciate all that NYU is doing for us," Nolden said. "They really are trying to keep cases down and keep us healthy and in-person. I believe their pre-quarantine and testing measures are above and stricter than a lot of other universities."

However, students are still hoping the school steps up to improve their quarantine experience. 

"If NYU wants to uphold the wide-scale operational integrity of the quarantine and they expect students to make sacrifices in order to ensure campus safety, they have to uphold their end of the deal by making a comfortable quarantine environment that's conducive to conditions incentivizing compliance on the students' end," Sheler said. 

"NYU is cracking down on safety, and we do truly feel safe here," Shear said. "We are just hungry."

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