In September, Yale Dining Services introduced something truly beautiful: a new coffee mug. These mugs were vast improvements over their predecessors. More aesthetically pleasing and, more importantly, larger, these mugs could hold twice the amount of coffee as the old mugs and, in doing so, they revolutionized my mornings. I really, really love coffee.
But slowly, these mugs started disappearing. Now, in January, if I find a mug at all at breakfast in the Berkeley dining hall, I consider myself lucky. Even the old, smaller, inferior mugs are nowhere to be found. Consequently, my fellow dining hall goers and I are routinely stuck between a rock and a hard place: paper or plastic? Should we use a paper cup for our coffee and kill some trees, or should we use a plastic cup and expose ourselves to the chemicals that leach out of all kinds of plastic when it is heated? (Of course, there is a third option: we could just not drink coffee. But come on. This is college. I’m not even going to explain why that’s not a viable option.)
Temporary solutions to the lack of coffee cups aside, the fundamental problem remains: Where have all of the mugs gone? I can only think of two explanations. The first is that these mugs are even more magical than I thought they were and somehow managed to escape oppressive dining hall life. If that is the case, then who am I to deny their hard-earned freedom?
The other explanation is that students are taking them out of the dining hall and keeping them indefinitely in their rooms. As I have seen many of these mugs on dorm room and off-campus shelves, this explanation seems pretty likely.
I understand why this would happen. The mugs are, after all, pretty awesome. Furthermore, money can be pretty tight for college students. Frugality is smart and often very necessary. But in the quest to save money, it is important not to lose sight of some important values.
The fact is that these cups are not ours for the taking. Yale Dining Services bought these cups. They were bought, of course, so that we students could use them — but they were bought so that they could be used in the dining hall, washed and reused by other students. Taking them outside of the dining hall for private use — even with the intent of returning them at the end of the school year — is essentially stealing.
We all like to think of Yale as a home. But being a member of a household comes with responsibilities. One of these responsibilities is respect for the possessions of others. As much as I might love my sister’s beautiful striped and sparkly cardigan, it would clearly be wrong for me to take it from her without her permission and wear it myself.
Of course, in the grand scheme of things, taking a mug or even a sweater is a minor theft compared to robbing a bank or stealing a wallet. But the attitude that allows us to justify these minor thefts has greater implications.
In a much larger sense, the earth is our home, with limited resources such as clean water, energy sources and land that members of the global household all need. According to a Native American proverb, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” The limited resources of the Earth are not ours for the taking. We owe it to the other members of our global community to be respectful of these limited, shared resources and try to live sustainably, with as little environmental impact as possible.
As for the whole dining hall mug situation, for now, I bought a pretty great ceramic travel mug that I use both in the dining hall and in my room, guilt-free. But, as they say, you never forget your first love. My first coffee cup love was those aesthetically pleasing, perfectly sized dining hall mugs. And so I will wait patiently until these cups are returned to the dining hall and we are reunited once more.
Nina Beizer is a senior in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.