OPINION: 5C dining halls should be open to all students in the fall

A student serves themselves in a dining hall
Nina Zietflow SC ’20 fills her plate at Pitzer College’s McConnell Bistro. (Ellen Duanmu • The Student Life)

Whenever I think about the joys of returning to campus in the fall, a lot of things come to mind, but dining halls figure fairly prominently. 

They serve as the meeting places of the colleges, a space where students from across the 5Cs can gather during breaks in their day to share a meal with one another. While I am eating well at home, my mind does occasionally drift to dinners at Malott Dining Commons or McConnell Dining Hall and breakfasts at Frary Dining Hall. 

However, the freedom of mobility that 5C students enjoy across all of the campuses’ dining halls looks unlikely to be a reality come next semester. 

In a March 30 email sent to Pitzer College students, the Office of Residence Life laid out the current plans for dining in the fall semester. Many of the announcements — outdoor dining, extended hours, grab-and-go options at campus cafes and minor remodeling to expedite food service — were to be expected. But one announcement caught my attention in particular: “Pitzer students will not have access to the other Claremont Colleges’ dining halls/cafes (and conversely, other Claremont Colleges students won’t have access to Pitzer dining hall/cafes, etc.).” Pomona College announced similar guidelines on Wednesday.

When TSL asked about the reasoning behind the decision, Pitzer spokesperson Jim Marchant, said the decision “was made in conjunction with the other 5Cs with the health and safety of our entire community in mind” as well as “in the interest of public health in order to minimize the spread of the [COVID-19] virus.”

“As the public health conditions continue to improve, it is possible that this issue may be revisited in the coming months and a change may be considered for spring 2022.”

While a commitment to the safety of students, faculty and staff will be an essential part of a successful transition back onto campus, this particular decision left me bewildered. 

Understandably, the unique nature of the 5C community and all of the things we share across campuses make decisions like this one more challenging to navigate. And yet, if we are anticipating a full return back to campus with students taking classes across the 5Cs as usual, it seems strange to me to choose the dining halls in particular as the places to be most restrictive, especially when considering that the plan is for most Pitzer, Pomona, Claremont McKenna College and Harvey Mudd College students to be vaccinated prior to returning to campus. 

If students will presumably be taking classes in person at other colleges and offering outdoor seating and density-mitigation efforts, then dining halls across the 5Cs should be open to all students as they would be in any other semester. 

While the health and safety of the 5C community should be at the forefront of all decisions regarding the planned return to campus, this decision doesn’t line up with the most recent Los Angeles County Department of Public Health guidelines. 

In the LACDPH’s protocols for reopening higher education, updated April 5, the LACDPH laid out its recommendations for a safe return to schools. 

Under the ‘dining halls’ section, the document states, “Dining halls may offer indoor dining, outdoor dining or take-out, in compliance with [LACDPH] Protocols for Restaurants. Indoor dining operations must comply with DPH protocols, including the requirement that indoor dining area occupancy is limited to 50 percent of total indoor occupancy based on applicable building or fire code occupancy or 200 people, whichever is less.”

While indoor dining across all 5Cs is not advisable for the fall, outdoor dining would seem to be completely permissible based on these LACDPH guidelines, assuming conditions continue to improve. 

Ultimately, while some restrictions are to be expected, I am grateful that we will be able to return to much of the normalcy of college life in the coming months. We must make peace with the fact that there will be changes and that everything will not be exactly the same. 

And yet, while many of these changes will be necessary in the interest of safety, restricting dining hall access need not be among them. 

As the entire 5C community does the work of preparing to return, it would be a shame to allow a decision such as this to so dramatically affect the campus experience. The colleges have remained admirably united during this incredibly challenging season, and they should not be forced apart just as students are able to safely return. 

Ryan Lillestrand PZ ’23 lives in Carlsbad, CA, but grew up in Florence, Italy. He is an avid reader and intends on majoring in international political economy with a minor in cognitive science. 

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