OPINION: Respect for dining hall workers starts with a smile

Three dining hall workers smiling. Hearts float around their heads.
(Nicole Cepeda • The Student Life)

Napkins on the floor. Leftover crumbs around the table. This is what I saw when searching for a seat during lunch at Collins this week. Of course, this isn’t just a Claremont McKenna College phenomenon: It happens at Frary, Malott — you name it.

If we students don’t pick our messes up, who will? You guessed it: our dining hall workers. They shouldn’t have to. They already have so much work on their plates; it isn’t a lot to ask to be more mindful of the mess that we leave and make their jobs easier.

In all honesty, witnessing that at Collins brought up a lot of emotions. I’ve noticed how some students don’t acknowledge dining hall workers. A lot of times, there’s no reaction when the workers serve our food, when we enter and exit the halls or when we pass by them on our way to a table.

But you know what I do see? A smile from them. Whether I walk into Frank, Frary, McConnell or Malott, our workers are always ready to say good morning, good afternoon or just a simple hello.

Some of my favorite moments on campus so far have been my conversations with the dining hall workers. A pivotal memory for my roommate and me was during the chaos of Orientation Adventure: Both of us looked like zombies walking into Frank for breakfast when we heard Teo, a dining hall worker, tell us good morning.

Moreover, he said this to us in Spanish and it instantly brought a smile to our faces. All the workers I’ve talked to and interacted with genuinely care about us as students. It isn’t hard, whatsoever, to reciprocate that energy and more.

Don’t get me wrong — I know we’re all busy and sometimes just want to get our food. But let’s not forget the privilege we have of being students on this campus. It should not be hard to be a nice human being.

Pick up after yourself. Take care of the spaces you walk into. Be nice to the people who are making our life on campus better. Acknowledge their presence — some of this shouldn’t have to be said, but it speaks volumes that it does.

We, as a society, should never consider the idea of saying “hello” or offering a smile to our dining hall workers as something that we forget to do or don’t do because we are busy. If we do, then do we really deserve all that they do for us?

It’s incredibly important to practice these small bits of empathy. Take time to talk and learn more about their lives during the long lines at the dining halls. Vocalize your gratitude — I assure you it means so much more than you know.

Now, I’m not saying every student doesn’t do this. I’ve seen a fair share of us having our conversations with them or asking how they are, and that is why I emphasize the need for us to do that more. I see the smiles that emerge on their faces — it’s the instant emotion of feeling seen.

However, it is important to mention that most of the students I see interact with dining hall workers are students who speak Spanish or people of color. I don’t think that is a coincidence. Oftentimes, students connect the labor of dining hall workers with inferiority, subconsciously — or even consciously — placing themselves above their fellow human beings. This leads to the lack of acknowledgement I see far too often.

For my roommate and me, speaking Spanish and having these conversations with the dining hall workers not only reminds us of home, but makes these genuine interactions the highlights of our day. The sense of welcome that we feel from a lot of the workers is one that we hold close to our hearts. It’s interesting to see many students’ automatic reflex of entitlement lead them to not acknowledging the workers’ presence. Don’t let that be yours.

Don’t be upset at them when Frank is closed on the weekends or when you arrive late to a meal and there’s no more food. Remember the simple fact that the workers are human beings, too and deserve the same amount of respect you are expecting in return.

It’s the simplest thing we can do. It’s the least we can do.

Lizette Gonzalez PO ’27 is a first-year at Pomona. She grew up in Los Angeles. She is a huge Dodgers baseball fan and you can always find her listening to music.

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