Dora Garcia’s multigenerational history at 5C dining halls

A group of students stand in front McConnell Dining Hall
Dora Garcia’s father, three brothers, sister-in-law and niece have worked across the 5Cs. (Nanako Noda • The Student Life).

Dora Garcia is a proud mother to Buddy and Chico — two adopted dogs — and her life centers around family trips to amusement parks and believing in the best of people. She genuinely makes the most of life. She often chuckles between her sentences and will never forget to wave at you, even from afar. And for the last 34 years, she has prioritized “doing right by you” every day in the 5C dining halls. 

She’s the smiling face that welcomes you to McConnell, though you might not always be able to see it behind her mask. If you don’t know Dora yet, it is likely because you have not caught on to her jokes when you walk through McConnell’s door.

Dining hall staff can often be overlooked by students, despite their essential roles in the daily fabric of college life. But the four years students spend in Claremont are incomparable to the multigenerational dedication of Garcia’s family.

While Garcia was born in the United States, she moved to Mexico during her childhood. Her father soon returned to California, where he worked as a dishwasher at Claremont McKenna College’s Collins Dining Hall, saving money until the rest of their family could join him in California.  

Following their father, Garcia’s three brothers worked at Collins during their high school summers, one of them climbing the ladder to management. A few decades later, Garcia’s sister-in-law is a manager at Harvey Mudd College’s Hoch-Shanahan Dining Commons, and her niece works at Scripps College’s Malott Commons.

Garcia herself has spent three and a half decades at the 5Cs, beginning at Scripps. During the summers, she worked on the Pitzer College campus while Scripps was closed. Finally, she tagged along with a friend for an interview at Pitzer and was hired full-time. 

Now, decades later, her days often start promptly at 6:30 a.m. — after a cup of coffee, of course. 

“I’ve been here too long,” she laughs, adding that she can tell whenever something is out of place. “I go, there’s a chair missing here, there’s too many chairs.” 

She focuses on making things as convenient and easy for students as possible, rethinking ways for students to move through busy hours with ease. She will rearrange the disposable cups and utensils so that they are easier for students who are in a rush to find them and she works to make things smoother despite the frequent changes due to COVID. 

Through the years, Garcia has seen the dining halls, campuses and students evolve. There were fewer students when she began, even with cross-campus dining. 

“The students [now] are more active, but also, they’re more entitled, a little demanding,” Garcia said.

The changes that trouble her most are the ones that have emerged since the pandemic.

“I understand that they wanna come in, sit down, relax and eat, [but there is] a lack of respect,” she said. “C’mon. Respect the people you interact with.” 

The relationship between staff and students has changed, with workers observing increasing issues with cleanliness and more hostility from students as dining halls adapt to pandemic-related constraints. But Garcia said she understands that students mean well, and they want to enjoy the dining hall as much as possible. 

“I always try to interact with people,” she said. “I told a student today, ‘nope, your [to-go] box will be $5 million,’ and she started pretend-crying, and we were both cracking up, because we have such a dry sense of humor. We were both laughing.” 

Sometimes, however, she can’t connect with some students, and her jokes don’t reach them. 

“Be kind, because kindness can go far.” —Dora Garcia

“I’m not gonna deprive students a box or whatever — I’m gonna help students,” she said. “But sometimes, you need to joke about it, because … things are so serious right now. With the virus, things change so much, and you gotta go with the change. We may not like the change, but for me … I’d rather make sure you guys eat right, eat healthy and be healthy.” 

She chuckled.

“I don’t want you guys to get sick, because you end up getting me sick too!” 

Staff and student relationships are an essential part of a functional community, yet Garcia’s perspective is not one familiar to most students. 

“Be kind, because kindness can go far,” Garcia said. “I know you guys are under incredible stress right now too. Trust me, college wasn’t easy for me! And I know, college is not easy for you guys.” 

She wishes communication behind the scenes was better, as well as between students and staff. 

For the family and workers who have dedicated decades, it is hard to imagine that students and staff can live so mutually without knowing each other’s names. 

Garcia said her goal is to learn everyone’s name. Now you know hers, so be sure to laugh with her next time you walk into McConnell. 

“We only live once,” she said. “If we see a wrong, we should make it right.” 

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