At Yale, inequality has no room at the table

My palms sweated as I inched closer to the doorway. It’s just another meal, I thought, calm down! But at the Berkeley dining hall, it’s never just another meal. I handed my ID card to the stone-faced swiper. She glanced over it. “Sorry,” she mumbled, “no more transfers today.”

I turned back, far more browbeaten than I should have been. So I’d have to slog through yet another night of soggy mashed potatoes and greasy chicken at JE — they’re just taste buds. So my young-man arteries will pay for my poor diet in the next few decades or so — it’s just thrombosis. So I was made to feel like a second-class citizen at my Ivy League university — it’s just Yale. But it’s certainly a cruel irony. Even as our new financial aid policies move us away from the class and wealth bias that has dominated Yale for centuries, Berkeley College’s dining services remain to Yale what Yale is to the rest of the world: a bastion of elitism and privilege. If fairness at Yale is truly our aim, the organic food project at Berkeley College is a glaring exception to what is otherwise a thriving, vibrant Yale community of equals.

On March 21, the Council of Masters instituted a trial ban on the restrictions against transfers at Berkeley, and the Berkeley College Council will meet to discuss the issue tonight. The current situation is no more than a temporary band-aid, a pointless smoke screen obscuring the focus on any long-term solution to the disparity. Ideally, if the organic food project can’t be fully extended to and implemented in every other residential college, it should be dismantled altogether.

Not to say, of course, that the facilities of every residential college need to be equalized across the board. Let Silliman enjoy its rock-climbing wall, let JE keep its printing press. But with something as fundamental and pervasive as the very food we eat, this inequality moves far beyond one residential college simply being “nicer” than another. Obviously, a renovated college is in better shape than a nonrenovated college, but these disparities will be remedied soon enough, while the organic food project will continue to be the exclusive realm of Berkeley College. The stratification it causes, and the resulting bitterness, is simply unacceptable at any egalitarian institution. Objectively, the project is a wonderful idea, but what benefit does it bring to the Yale campus as a whole? The vast majority of us still spend dinnertime rooting through mass-produced swill. My all-or-nothing attitude may sound vindictive, but it is the only fair option.

However, there are ways to sustain the project for the present time, while simultaneously leveling the playing field, if to a lesser extent. Start by moving it from Berkeley to a neutral venue, like the Hall of Graduate Studies. No doubt this would require some tinkering with the dining services budget, some kitchen upgrades and some creative thinking on the part of the college administration. But Yale is a wealthy place, and it’s not entirely unfeasible. From there, implement a system of rotations: Every undergraduate residential college gets its own specific night to indulge, along with the graduate students that would get the full benefit of the program. For example, on the first night, only Trumbull undergraduates would get to transfer, on the second night only Branford, and so on. An arrangement like this would be much easier to swallow than the sustained, deep-seated resentment of one undergraduate for his or her peers, classmates and friends.

An even more practical, yet ultimately superficial, solution would be to keep the project in Berkeley, and employ the system of rotations there. Berkeleyites would still get their organic food, and other colleges would get one night out of 11 without restriction, if they so choose. This is clearly within the limits on resources and facilities that preclude other residential colleges from savoring the healthy, carefully prepared and delicious organic meals Berkeleyites enjoy at every sitting. For too long, this strict system has resulted in long lines of hungry transfers at 4:45, unrepentant swipers on the cover of Rumpus, even a syndicate of counterfeit Berkeley stickers. It’s got to stop.



Michael Gold, a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College, writes for scene.

Comments