Verbum Ultimum: Out of Line
The current dining situation on campus is untenable.
’53 Commons lines extending to Parkhurst. Courtyard Cafe lines snaking to Hinman. Crowds of students squeezing past each other to get to dining stations.
For the first two weeks of the fall term, these chaotic scenes have defined the student dining experience at Dartmouth. Thanks to a combination of an unprecedented number of students returning to campus and pandemic-induced labor shortages in the Upper Valley, barriers to food access on campus have been formidable, and student frustrations with Dartmouth Dining Services have reached an all-time high.
While the immediate focus must be on finding short-term solutions to the current situation to ensure that students can, well, eat, it’s clear that in the long term, the College has substantial work to do in addressing the current lack of reasonable dining options on campus and fulfilling a basic obligation to its students.
Throughout these first couple of weeks, long lines have not only made it difficult for students to manage their time — simply grabbing lunch at the Hop has turned into an hour-long commitment — but the long wait for food has also forced some students to skip meals in order to fulfill their academic, extracurricular and work obligations. This situation, it goes without saying, is a concerning one, particularly for those students living with or recovering from eating disorders. Long dining wait times also exacerbate existing inequalities on campus: Not everyone can afford the alternative of eating in town or ordering take-out. This inequality is only exacerbated by the dearth of on-campus dining options available on the weekends: This past weekend, for instance, no dining options were open before 12 p.m. on Saturday apart from ’53 Commons.
Apart from long lines and unreasonable weekend hours, this term has also seen late night dining scaled back from pre-pandemic operations. Late night at Collis will not return, and the Courtyard Cafe will only be open until midnight. Novack and the snack bars have finally opened their doors, but Novack, too, will close at midnight Sundays through Thursdays, 5 p.m. on Fridays and 7 p.m. on Saturdays, leaving the various snack bars as the only options for students returning from — or headed out to — social events on on nights. These reduced hours impose barriers to food security for the many students who stay up late and eat at irregular meal times, while forcing some of these students to turn to pricy and unhealthy off-campus options like Dominos and CVS.
These critiques are not meant to be a dig at the hard-working Dartmouth Dining employees and management — labor shortages are not their fault. Indeed, the DDS staff are the ultimate victims here, no doubt stretched extremely thin as fewer employees try to serve more students than ever. But because there is not currently enough staff to meet increased demand — and because the opening of new locations in King Arthur Flour’s former location and on the western portion of campus may only further strain staff — something must be done on the supply side.
As a start, DDS should raise wages to attract more full-time and student workers. Out of the on-campus jobs available, a position at ’53 Commons, for instance, is likely less attractive than the alternatives — it is active, difficult work that can be uncomfortable and messy. Thus, in order to compete with other on- and off- campus jobs available to students and residents of the Upper Valley, DDS must significantly raise wages — certainly higher than the “$12-$14/hour” currently advertised on signs around campus.
Reinstating pandemic-era food tents and subsidizing other options for students on financial aid are two more quick changes that would greatly improve the student dining experience and reduce food insecurity on campus. While the weather permits, Dartmouth should set up tents similar to those operated last year, which allowed students to quickly pick up to-go meals during peak times. Secondly, DDS ought to provide students on financial aid with stipends to purchase groceries — something already done during winterim — on days in which they do not have time to wait in lines.
While the above options represent important “quick fix” solutions, it is clear that the current situation also calls for more systematic change. In the long term, Dartmouth should explore partnering with popular local restaurants to allow students to use their dining dollars — or even swipes in exchange for pre-set meals — in downtown locations. This sort of system, common at other universities, would not only help alleviate the burden on DDS and reduce inequalities between students, but could also function to strengthen the College’s relationship with Main Street. Put bluntly, DDS has no grounds to reject this idea — if, as has been the case this term, DDS cannot fulfill its responsibility to feed every student in a reasonable time frame, its continued monopoly on dining at Dartmouth is indefensible.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.