It’s 8:35 on a Monday morning and you’ve stopped at Collis Café on the way to your 9L. You push through the students crowded around the smoothie station and reach for a “best ever bran muffin.” When you go to pay, you realize that 12 students have beaten you to the front of the line. Not having a minute to spare, you shove the muffin into your backpack, slip out the back door and sprint to the Life Sciences Center.
At Dartmouth, we’ve witnessed students taking Tupperware containers full of Greek Yogurt, numerous apples and several other quick snacks without paying for them. If you ask around, most students can tell you at least one crazy story about theft in the dining halls.
“When it was apple day at [Class of 1953 Commons] my freshman year, a girl on my floor took 72 apples and stuffed them in her backpack,” Missy Cantave ’16 said.
Whether it’s 72 apples or a single muffin, taking anything from FoCo, Collis, the Hop or Novack Café that you did not pay for is a violation of Dartmouth’s Standards of Conduct. It’s there in plain letters — theft of any College property is firmly against the rules. Almost any student has, at some time, gotten their FoCo to-go, often when we’re huddled in the library over midterms and we can’t take the time to sit down for a meal. Many of us likely throw the small slip of paper in the plastic containers away without giving them a second glance, but on them lies the all important to-go policy. Put simply, you are only allowed to use the containers issued by the dining hall — the use of Tupperware is not permitted under the public health code — and the students may not eat during the process of collecting their food. If you choose to take your meal inside, you’re allowed to carry out one piece of fruit, an ice cream cone or a cookie. It might seem minor at first, but students who are caught violating these rules may be subject to judicial review.
Director of Dartmouth Dining Services David Newlove said he has witnessed various degrees of dining hall theft and noted the monetary loss it incurs.
“For the 16 years that I’ve been at Dartmouth there have always been students who have stolen from the dining halls,” he said. “The typical numbers are that two percent of retail sales are lost each year to theft.”
Students are predictable, though, and just because something like stealing food is against the rules, there’s still a number of people who try it anyway. FoCo supervisor Scott Jandreau also said he witnesses two or three attempted thefts on a typical day.
“The most common thing for people to steal is a few extra pieces of fruit or to also eat in the dining hall when they are getting their food to go,” he said.
Newlove said that the most frequent thefts at Collis and the Hop occur over the weekend and during Late Night hours. He said that students often forget to pay for food or consume food and leave before paying. He also told us that there is a definite correlation between alcohol and drug use and theft.
Yet, if the occasional FoCo apple or Collis baked good is known to go missing, it’s not necessarily as prevalent everywhere on campus. Novack employee Veronique Davis ’15 said that she only sees a couple students trying to steal from Novack each term.
“People try to steal Odwallas more often than anything else because the fridge is out of our direct sight,” Davis said. “A lot of times people try to take things that aren’t included in the lunch meal swipe specials, so they’ll try to take fruit snacks instead of chips.”
Cindy Ramirez ’18 said that some of the cases of students stealing from the dining halls are more extreme than others.
“One time my friend snuck out 20 bananas in his backpack,” she said. “It was funny because he had two in his hands, so one of the workers told him to put it back, but he didn’t care because he knew there were 20 more in his backpack.”
Newlove also told us about some of the larger thefts that he has witnessed throughout his time at Dartmouth.
“We’ve had students that have been caught multiple times stealing loaves of bread,” Newlove said. “We’ve had students come into the Hopkins Center storeroom and take boxes of granola bars. We’ve been broken into by students who have broken into the back doors or climbed through windows.”
For some, stealing from the dining halls can be a source of pride. I once heard about a student who bragged about taking an entire tub of ice cream from FoCo by putting it in his backpack. Jandreau told us about a unique theft he witnessed in 2013.
“Two years ago, I had to chase somebody out the door because they stole the big Count Chocula sign around Halloween when they were having a big promotion,” he said. “I think it was a fraternity thing.”
According to Newlove, students are usually given warnings the first time they are caught stealing. If they are caught a second time, they are referred to the judicial affairs office.
“If there’s an egregious theft where a student is stuffing their backpack and there’s no ‘I didn’t know,’ we refer them immediately to the judicial process,” Newlove said. “If there’s a second time that that happens we refer them to the Hanover Police to be charged with shoplifting. We have camera systems throughout the dining halls, so if something goes wrong, we have 30 days for Safety and Security to process the footage.”
Jandreau said that when he catches first-time offenders trying to steal from FoCo, he makes sure to explain the DDS rules to them.
“Most people are very up front and honest. Others will give me some attitude,” he said, “Usually after I confront somebody once about stealing, I don’t see it happen again.”
Students have used many different justifications to defend stealing from the dining halls. Judicial affairs director Leigh Remy said that when the judicial affairs office meets with students who have stolen from the dining halls, the students often do not think that the amount of food they stole would harm the College’s bottom line and that taking food from the dining halls is more convenient than going to a grocery store.
Samuel Emmah ’18 doesn’t believe that taking food from the dining halls should always be considered a crime.
“They are going to waste the food and throw it out anyways, so they might as well let students take it,” he said. “People waste their meal swipes, so it probably balances things out anyways.”
Others explained that students sometimes steal unintentionally without realizing that they are stealing. Robert He ’19 remembered a time he forgot to pay for his collis stir-fry when he spotted his friends already sitting down.
Ramirez said she feels that taking food from the dining halls should not be considered a crime because the costs of meal plans are so high.
“I’ve taken more than one fruit before,” Ramierez said. “I don’t see why it’s so bad to take more than one fruit. I feel like the school is already overcharging us.”
Newlove explained, however, that the rising cost of meal plans has been in part due to the two percent of retail sales lost to theft each year.
“It’s sad because the students who steal are stealing, not only from the school, but from other students as well,” he said.
Some students, like Gage Guerra ‘19, believe that stealing is stealing and that the rules should be enforced.
“I just experienced an altercation between a worker and a student,” he said. “The worker thought that a student walked out without paying for their meal. It turns out that the student just paid in the other line, but I think it’s good that the workers are doing their jobs and staying on top of things.”