The Department of Education is investigating our university “for its failure to eliminate a hostile sexual environment on campus.” A girl got robbed by three other girls in broad daylight right in front of Pierson College.
Obviously the most pressing issue on hand is our dining halls.
A la carte dining, proposed earlier this week by Elizabeth Chrystal ’13 (“At mealtime, more thoughtful choices,” March 30) is an interesting but terrible choice. It is needlessly inconvenient, unfairly benefits richer students and, worst of all, treats the student diner like a customer.
Our university goes to extraordinary lengths to make meals about much more than food. It has built and maintained dining halls nicer than many churches. It runs over a dozen separate kitchens, and the quality and variety of food is for the most part very good. They even decorate the dining halls for the different seasons. All this effort stems from a deeply-held philosophy that communities bond and bloom through the shared consumption of food. They already ask long work weeks from the workers and hefty contributions from alumni. I think it is time we demand less of our dining halls and more of ourselves.
First, we should ditch the trays. It is a tired point and seems trite for the practical effects alone: A no-tray dining hall costs less, wastes less, pollutes less, and will probably even make us healthier. Granted, it can be a pain not having a tray. You might even have to make two trips. But there is a further aesthetic benefit that more than matches the cost. Dining without a tray makes you commit to a meal. You have to think more about which foods you pick and be more conscientious about the mess you are making. I would even argue it enhances the dining experience — there is no awkward tray-butting, and you can enjoy the beautiful tables. It makes a dining hall meal less cafeteria-style and more home-style, which really should be the ultimate goal.
Second, we should dress well. I know the jackets and slacks of old are considered hallmarks of pretense but I would argue they retain a great deal of merit. Dressing up forces you to put yourself together and take the meal seriously. A dress code for certain meals — say, weekend dinners — makes the hall feel like more of a community and makes the meal something special. Moreover, I would argue a dress code actually makes the dining hall a more diverse setting. External conformity guards internal dissent. By creating an aesthetic equality between peers, a dress code allows for complete inner non-conformity. Granted, a dress code grates on our liberal individualistic instincts, but getting dressed up for dinner on Saturdays and Sundays seems like an attainable goal.
Finally and most importantly, every student should work in the dining halls. Between preparation and cleanup, working a single meal takes about four hours. By my rough estimate, the dining halls serve about 700 meals a year. That means if all 500 something students in Pierson College worked just eight hours a year, or one meal a semester, we could always have at least one student in our kitchen. I am not suggesting that students run the kitchen or even that we would be particularly useful in there — that misses the point. The point is to have a stake in and take some ownership of our dining halls and, by extension, our community.
Go trayless, dress well, help out — these are specific measures, but the more important part is the underlying sentiment. When approaching dining hall policy, there is a tendency to treat it like a one-way experience. But our dining halls are more than just places to eat our meals or the equivalent of a chain of on-campus restaurants. We are not passive consumers — we are members of a community, and when we discuss dining hall policy we need to remember that.
Nicolas Kemper is a senior in Pierson College. His column runs on alternate Fridays.