MARSH: Oppose Commons changes

The end of a school year brings many changes: classes ending, seniors graduating and summers starting. Unfortunately, it also seems to bring about unexpected and damaging changes to Yale’s dining system. Two years ago, Yale Dining announced that Commons would not be open for dinner during the next academic year, using the untrue argument that the dining hall had not been open for dinner prior to the renovations. Students and dining hall workers rightly protested the unwanted change.

The new arrangement of Commons revealed this week continues this disturbing trend. The new arrangement places the desk to swipe into the dining hall at a checkpoint in a blue barrier around the food. Dining hall workers are posted at various points around the barricade for security.

This arrangement is bad for a number of reasons. First, Commons — the largest dining space on campus — is heavily trafficked between class periods. The new layout makes the line to get food even worse, because the line to reach the main servery in the back is now a part of the swipe line itself. This problem is exacerbated for people in a rush. Before the change, students could opt for a quick lunch at the pizza and pasta bar on the side. Now, with the servery and swipe lines combined, there is no way to save time by opting for less popular foods.

Second, it is not entirely clear how students are meant to return to the servery for seconds. The system seems to involve repeatedly swiping in for every soda refill or cookie, which just extends the line even further.

Third, the new arrangement significantly reduces the available seating space in Commons. Fewer seats means it is harder for people who eat with clubs and groups to sit together without being forced to ask other people to move.

All of this is problem enough in itself. But beyond that, the purported justification for this change, based on my conversation with a dining hall manager yesterday morning, is trivial and insulting. Yale Dining presumes students were somehow exploiting the university by swiping into Commons for breakfast, then committing the sin of having lunch without swiping a second time. This rationale is not only trite, but it also creates unnecessary divisions between dining hall staff and students.

Take the issue of meal plans themselves. There is effectively no price difference between the three on-campus meal plan options; each on-campus plan costs roughly $3,000, and even the off-campus meal plan costs over $2,000. Because few students swipe in for breakfast, and residential dining halls close between 11:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., the already-high price per meal increases even more when distributed between two meals a day on the Full Meal Plan.

If it is actually the case that Yale Dining needs to force students to swipe into Commons for both breakfast and lunch because some minority of students use breakfast swipes in Commons and lunch swipes at Durfee’s, then it suggests that Yale Dining is charging students for swipes that they are not expected to use. Either Yale Dining is deliberately overcharging for its meal plans, or the problem they claim exists is minor at best.

The new layout in Commons suggests Yale Dining managers and administration see students as exploitative malefactors simply because they want to get the full benefits of a meal plan they have no choice but to buy. This is insulting not only to students, but also to dining hall workers, who have already been victim to reduced dining hours in Commons and now bear the brunt of harder labor due to longer lines, harder-to-navigate workspaces and inevitable conflicts with students.

Ultimately, this is a solution in search of a problem. It does not appear that there are as many people as Yale Dining thinks there are who swipe in for breakfast and stay in Commons all day. Though Yale Dining released no data about how many students do this, that number is certainly nowhere near high enough to justify inconveniencing every student and worker in Commons.

For the last four years, I have eaten nearly every weekday lunch meal in Commons. It has been a convenient place to eat with my friends, and its regular options will always mean that there will be something I want to eat. Commons itself represents a large part of what it means to be a Yalie, apart from college affiliation. These new changes sacrifice efficiency, convenience, space and student comfort for no reason beyond a meaninglessly small increase in profits. We are a part of this university more than just consumers, and we should oppose these changes as forcefully as possible. For the sake of everyone who eats in Commons, from daily diners to less frequent eaters, I ask that Yale Dining restore Commons’ original arrangement.

Stephen Marsh is a senior in Saybrook College. Contact him at stephen.marsh@yale.edu .

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