First self-serve ice cream machine on campus installed in Commons Dining Center

The ice cream machine, which serves three dairy-free ice cream flavors, is a pilot project of Campus Dining and Vanderbilt Student Government.


Jenny Yang

New soft serve ice cream machine at Commons Dining Center, as photographed on Jan. 27, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Jenny Yang)

Rhea Patney and Jenny Yang

The Commons Dining Center installed a soft-serve ice cream machine Jan. 27 that serves dairy-free ice cream. The new machine is the first self-serve ice cream option available at the university. It is included as part of the all you can eat meal swipe and runs from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 5 – 7 p.m. daily. These hours differ from regular Commons dining hall hours. 

A university representative said that this addition to the dining center will allow students and faculty who are lactose intolerant or have dietary restrictions to have three dairy-free soft-serve ice cream flavors: vanilla, chocolate and vanilla-chocolate swirl. 

“We are passionate about bringing delicious food to all students, including those with dietary restrictions and preferences,” the university representative said in a message to the Hustler. “We decided that Oatly soft-serve is the most inclusive option for our diverse student body.”

The machine is the result of a joint initiative between campus dining and the Campus Services Committee of Vanderbilt Student Government. Per the committee’s chair, junior Caleb Boyer, members of the committee knew that many other schools had ice cream machines, so they felt Vanderbilt should have one as well. 

“The biggest thing we did was advocating for it to happen during our meetings and communications with dining,” Boyer said. “As with many issues, one of my committees’ most important jobs is making Campus Dining aware of what students want. This was something that we had been pushing for for a long time, we are very thankful that Ms. Portelli was able to make it happen.”

First-year Kady Hillman said she was initially excited about the new addition to Commons Dining, but thought that the quality of the ice cream could be better.

“I saw them put the machine in and got in the big line. It was really exciting,” first-year Kady Hillman said. “I wouldn’t say it was a letdown, because how high can the bar be, right? Once someone said it was oat milk I was like, ‘ohhhhh, I get it now.’”

First-year Ria Mirchandani has a severe dairy allergy and said she was pleased that she could also enjoy the soft-serve options. 

“I believe the soft serve machine is a great addition to Campus Dining and Commons and am glad that Vanderbilt is expanding their selection of vegan options,” Mirchandani said. 

Sophomore Lena Wu said that when she went to try the ice cream machine at Commons Dining, a black tarp had been placed over it and it was not functioning. 

“Before I went, I was like, ‘I feel like the ice cream machine is going to be broken,’ because McDonald’s ice cream machines are broken all the time,” Wu said. “There’s no way this institution can maintain a working functional ice cream machine.”

Wu expressed further disappointment that the ice cream machine is open for fewer hours per day than the dining hall is.

“Why does it [the machine] even need hours?,” Wu said. “I’m hoping some day in the future, I will be able to get my bowl of fresh soft serve Oatly ice cream.” 

Campus Dining stated that they have not had any maintenance issues with the machine so far. 

“We have not encountered any maintenance issues with the machine since it was installed just days ago. Due to very high demand, our initial supply of product was quickly exhausted,” a Campus Dining representative said. “More has been ordered and the machine should be restocked and available for use again on Wednesday, Feb. 1.”

Per Campus Dining, if students respond positively to the Commons Machine, Campus Dining and VSG will look into opportunities to install more soft-serve machines on main campus.  

“Obviously, an ice cream machine doesn’t take away from the other dining-related concerns that students have, but it’s a small change that we hope brings students a little bit of joy in their day,” Boyer said.