As highlighted in the news section this week, students can only enter the McConnell and Malott dining halls after presenting their IDs. The policy enforcements sparked some Pitzer College students to start a petition, arguing that students should be able to enter the dining halls just by giving their ID numbers at the register.
It’s important to remember that the chefs and dining hall workers behind our meals at the dining halls are not behind these policies. The staff is not trying to go out of their way to be rude; they did not create these rules, and their enforcement is part of doing their jobs.
In fact, it is crucial we recognize the institutional policies that continue to impact the dining hall staff across the 5Cs. With the history of documented labor rights disputes in the dining halls, our grievance must be put in perspective.
When successful movements – which this likely will not turn out to be – occur, they can and do confront representations of power. Statues are toppled and logos meme-ified. But dining hall employees are not mere extensions of power; indeed, they are caught in corporate power systems in ways that are no less real than the client relationship students enjoy.
This policy is not new. Students have always needed their IDs to get in the dining halls; a sign at the entrance to McConnell reminds students that just providing the number isn’t enough. As more and more students have used dining hall numbers to sneak in, the staff has had no other choice but to reinforce the student ID policy. While some of us may feel penalized by the implementation, we are implicated in this.
In a perfect world, of course, students wouldn’t have to be sneaking in. A truly just food system would see all of our students well-fed, whether they can afford a meal plan or not. But that’s not what this petition is really about.
It’s true that what some see as minor inconveniences others better understand as structural failings or, worse yet, active forces of oppression. The obvious example here is voter ID laws.
But Bon Appétit and Sodexo are not the government, and shouldn’t have to act like it. While food is often unacknowledged as being deeply political in terms of access and quality, we find the current petition to be, if not fundamentally unproductive, at least misdirected.