OPINION: It’s time to rethink cross-campus dining

Palm trees surround Malott Commons, the Scripps College dining hall.
(Olivia Shrager • The Student Life)

We’ve swam, we’ve lifted and now we’re waving goodbye. Once again, half the team starts walking north towards McConnell Center and the rest head to Frary Dining Hall. Dinner is where we unwind, develop elaborate inside jokes and get to know each other as people rather than athletes. But now this is happening on two separate tracks within the team: the Pomona College students are building one sense of team, and Pitzer College students another.

Athletic teams are far from the only ones impacted by closed cross-campus dining. Shared meals have always been a staple of 5C community building in every kind of organization and discipline. While it has been stated that cross-campus dining will not be restarted this semester, administrators should  be thinking creatively and pragmatically about dining rather than exhibiting the unwavering rigidity that has become synonymous with COVID-19 policies. 

Cross-campus dining is an essential element of 5C-wide community building and there are safe ways to go about it. A month into the fall semester, it is high time we considered implementing them — at the very least by next semester.

So far, the 5Cs have been relatively successful in controlling the spread of COVID-19, as cases have remained low, and the test positivity rate across all five colleges  is 0.03 percent as of Oct. 3. While six student cases at Pomona were reported Thursday, this does not mean that a return to cross-campus dining no longer merits consideration. 

Students have already been taking classes together across all five campuses, with masking requirements or outdoor classrooms. Everyone has already been exposed to those from other campuses with COVID-19 guidelines in place — we should approach dining the same way. 

Utilizing existing masking protocols and outdoor spaces is an obvious solution. Students from other campuses could swipe into dining halls and get food while masked, but be required to sit and eat outside. Dining halls have already implemented the infrastructure for outdoor dining and students are already required to wear masks inside when not eating. This solution would minimize exposure and maximize the ability for 5C students to interact safely. It is not the same as opening dining as a free-for-all without keeping COVID-19 in mind, but it is also a break from the rigid policies currently in place. Flexibility is required on both ends, but solutions are possible.

Of course, there will be some logistical hurdles to implementing a more complex open cross-campus dining policy than the current closed one. However, the need to clear these hurdles is imminent if we hope to foster cross-campus relationships. Shared meals are a critical way for 5C-wide organizations, sports teams, classes and simply friends to come together, get to know each other and build community. With dining together limited to students of the same  campus, students at each school are isolated and feel insulated from the rest of the 5Cs. This is especially a problem for first- and second-years who may not have had a chance to form cross-campus connections yet, as well as for cross-campus clubs or athletic teams who previously relied on shared meals as meeting places or means of building camaraderie.

Closed cross-campus dining has rendered the kind of community building that shared meals facilitate nearly impossible. Greenboxing and meeting up is not a viable alternative to getting food from the same dining hall and meeting outside. With geographic separation and different hours it is a logistical nightmare to do so in most situations. In the case of Pomona-Pitzer sports teams, it would be incredibly unfair to ask Pitzer students to walk up to their dining hall after practice, greenbox, walk back down to eat with the team and then walk back up to their dorm rooms, or vice versa for Pomona students. It would be infinitely easier if everyone could get food from a single dining hall and eat outside together.

Isolation is a feeling that characterized a year of remote learning, and being on campus allows us to reignite that sense of community that is unique to in-person liberal arts education. The college administrations understand how important dining is to facilitate community building, as that reasoning was cited as the primary motivation for Pomona requiring students living on campus to have the unlimited meal plan

This principle ought to apply to inter- as well as intra-school connection building. COVID-19 safety and community connection don’t have to be mutually exclusive priorities in 5C dining. If administrators from all schools collaborate to implement creative solutions, we can all have our Frary Texas sheet cake and eat it too.

Madison Lewis PO ’24 is from Palo Alto, California. She is a varsity athlete on the Pomona-Pitzer women’s water polo team, and a wistful 5C menu app user. 


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