While most of USC's undergraduate population only knows Russell House as it is today, the class of 2021 knew “Old Russell” as an all-you-can-eat dining hall with a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell option.
When it was renovated in fall 2018, Russell House added 12 new dining options to campus, drastically changing the way students eat at USC.
“Instead of it being all these, like, random little to-go eateries, where you get a bunch of food to-go and get everything in plastic and everything, it was truly like, an all-you-can-eat buffet dining hall, in a sense," Jenny Covington, fourth-year biochemistry and molecular biology student, said.
According to some students, such as fourth-year finance student Mark Fu, pre-2018 Russell House had a different feeling than it does today.
“One thing I remember is that it was kind of dark; the lighting was kind of dim. So, it was a little bit strange. I think I prefer the lighting now," Fu said.
While the other traditional style dining halls — Honeycomb Café, Bates Diner and Gibbes Court Bistro — have largely stayed the same, fan-favorite restaurants have come and gone from Russell House. In place of the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell is a full-service Chick-fil-A and a Panera Bread.
“Everybody really loved [the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell], especially on, like, game day Saturdays,” Covington said. “I don't know why, but even if you came back early or something like that, you'd always see so many people in line for those two because they were always open.”
Other eateries that were removed are Great American Cookie, Marble Slab Creamery and Pandini’s Pizza.
The change from a traditional dining hall to a quick-service hub raised environmental concerns among students.
“I will say, something I definitely miss from old Russell House is the sustainability aspect of it,” Covington said. “I think now it's way less eco-friendly than it used to be because it used to be everything was, you know, utensils and it was all real plates and salad bowls and things like that.”
Student means of buying food at Russell House have also evolved over the years to make the system more flexible.
In the past, meal swipes were tied to a specific time of day — a big difference from the current system. Meal swipes would expire after the breakfast, lunch or dinner time slots.
“It was literally the worst,” Covington said. “That is, like, definitely the best part about like how they changed [the dining program].”
While meal plans no longer restrict swipes to a certain time of day as they did before 2018, students find some of the rules to be overly complicated. Some students feel restricted to ordering the same menu items that are covered by a meal swipe, as they find the meal swipe equivalency system to be confusing.
Lainey Stalnaker, a first-year political science and economics student, said the meal swipe cash equivalency system is frustrating, because she feels like she eats the same things too often.
Others experience confusion at the Gamecock General convenience-store locations around campus.
First-year mechanical engineering student David Ziehl said he wanted to buy Skittles with his meal swipes, but found he was unable to.
“I feel like we should be able to buy something like that on a meal swipe if we want to because like the actual value of our meal swipe, like the dollar value, is higher than the value of those items,” Ziehl said.
While the post-2018 layout of Russell House offers students more flexibility in dining options, Covington said she sees a downside.
“I think if I was an incoming freshman, and even if it wasn't a pandemic, and they just gave me like, a to-go bag with my food, I might just take it back to my residence hall room because I'm nervous to meet other people or eat alone or something,” Covington said. “The real utensils and plates and everything kind of forced you to sit there and make that connection.”
College students' schedules can be booked and even unpredictable, so some students think longer dining hours could help students make the most of their time.
“I think most places should be open later, because I got a job this semester and the hours are 4 to 9 or 10 depending on, you know, the day,” Stalnaker said. “A lot of places are closed by then; like, Honeycomb is closed, and that's the nearest dining hall to me.”