OPINION: Hear me out on Collins

A drawing of a group of people at collins dining hall staring at a cartoonish chicken wing. The people’s expressions vary between shocked and hungry.
(Max Ranney • The Student Life)

Well, in case you missed it, a new year just started — and with the influx of all the first-years, it’s time for that yearly conversation: Which dining hall is the best? In that perennial debate, Collins tends to get a lot of idle hate. Critics say it’s boring and mediocre, that it gives hospital or corporate cafeteria or that it’s filled with Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) football team members and hungover future wealth management advisors.

And sure, they’re totally right about all of that. But let’s dive a little deeper than we usually do with our analyses of Claremont McKenna College (CMC) experiences and see if there are any other narratives going on under the surface. If you would, give me a little bit more of your time — I’m here to tell you that Collins can be a lot more than you might assume. 

“Man, that was a great meal” is not frequently a sentiment someone expresses after leaving Collins. But to interpret that as a problem is somewhat missing the point of Collins. Collins exists not to provide us with gourmet experiences; it’s here to keep us going through the day. You won’t find Pitzer’s catfish or Mudd’s steak there, but you will find a consistently good salad bar and a damn decent grill.

In the real world, and especially in the CMC world, not every night is an opportunity to have some revolutionary culinary experience. We’re usually too tired for that — we want something convenient and reliable.

But that’s sort of the problem we have with Collins — when we’re fighting about how bad it is, none of us can imagine wanting anything normal or non-exceptional. We presume that we’re all willing to take the excesses of constantly novel experiences even if they come with the inconsistency of dining halls like Frary or McConnell. That consumerist instinct to be constantly in search of the new best thing in exchange for giving up stability or reliability is something we so easily reject intellectually, but the second the conversation turns to dining halls, it’s everyone’s rhetorical crutch.

But even that analysis somewhat misses what Collins is in a CMC context. In case you’re unaware, there’s a lot of conversation at CMC about how communities are created, maintained and located — and Collins is a core part of that dialogue.

I’d argue that Collins, especially during late night snack, has a pretty specific vibe that doesn’t really exist anywhere else at CMC or at any of the other colleges. It’s a comfortable communal space — everyone’s sedated with corn dogs and ice cream, coming together after a long day. It’s where the ASCMC presidential candidates give their speeches, it’s where community organizing goes down, it’s where friendships are born. If you’ve ever been there on a busy night, you’ve seen a sizable crowd of CMCers from every community at the college milling around. 

Most importantly, Collins is a powerful metaphor for what it means to be a CMC student. Late night snack was created because so many of us are up late working for our competitive cutthroat extracurriculars so that we can get that internship our junior year summer. But it’s become so much more than a place for us to fill up on coffee — we’ve used it as an escape from the reality of much of life at CMC. For those few minutes when you’re there, you don’t exist as your elevator pitch — you exist as you.

And that is kind of the story of CMC: It’s about the struggle to create a community from a space that was not designed for it. It’s about breaking the rules gracefully and deliberately. It’s about subverting normality and using what you have to rise above.

But yeah, Collins is lowkey mid.

 

Rowan Gray CM ’26 is from Sharon, Massachusetts. He wants you to know that all Oxford commas in this piece were violently deleted by his copy editors.

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