The Motley Coffeehouse to close for fall semester

The Motley Coffeehouse employs 60 Scripps College students. (Anna Horne • The Student Life)

Students, faculty and staff who rely on Scripps College’s The Motley Coffeehouse for their daily caffeine fix will have to say a temporary goodbye to the student-run cafe, which will be closed for the upcoming fall semester.

Associate Dean of Students Adriana di Bartolo, who is also the Motley’s administrative adviser, announced the decision during a town hall with Scripps students Thursday. The Motley will likely transform into a “grab and go” area where students will pick up meals instead, she said. 

“All decisions that the College is making to address the effects of COVID are in efforts to create as much opportunity as possible for students, faculty, and staff to social distance and remain safe,” di Bartolo told TSL via email.

While no administrative decisions have been announced concerning the Motley’s future in the spring semester, the closing of the Motley is likely not indefinite or permanent. 

“Our hope is that we will be able to have the Motley open in the spring,” di Bartolo told TSL.

Uma Nagarajan-Swenson SC ’22, who was set to be the coffeehouse’s primary executive manager, said she and the entire Motley staff had no forewarning of the cafe’s closing prior to hearing di Bartolo mention it publicly.

“I’m not necessarily surprised to hear this news, but I am devastated,” she said via email. “We definitely didn’t expect to hear the news on a public call, and I think we’d hoped we would have agency over how this news would be delivered to our community.”

The Motley managers were not previously informed because the decision was finalized the day of the town hall, di Bartolo told TSL. The news was shared during the meeting “in an effort to be transparent,” she said.

“It would have been best to inform Motley leadership before announcing publicly and as the Motley [adviser], I have apologized to the current managers and we are working together on next steps,” she told TSL.

Given the need to keep students and the community safe, Nagarajan-Swenson said she understood why administrators made the decision to close the coffeehouse.

Petie Schill SC ’22, who was the Motley’s facilities manager during the spring, felt that the decision to close was “smart and responsible” and that reopening would be too risky, but acknowledged that other managers may disagree with her.

“I think especially because I was the facilities manager, and I know more about health code than most people, I would say that it would be near impossible to ensure that the Motley could be safe and [that] we could prevent the further spread of the outbreak.”

Still, the way the news was delivered threw off Schill a little bit and felt “disrespectful” to Nagarajan-Swenson — especially because the temporary closure significantly impacts their student staff of 60. This list includes baristas, barista leads and managers for finances, events and more.

Not having the guaranteed employment for the upcoming semester leaves a lot up in the air for staff, which includes federal work-study students who rely on the income for necessities such as books, housing, groceries and more, Nagarajan-Swenson said. So, she’s hoping for transparency from administration regarding upcoming decisions.

“We want to ensure that all our baristas who need jobs have jobs come fall,” she said.

Scripps is currently reviewing all student employment, di Bartolo told TSL. Final plans will be made once the College decides whether or not students will return for in-person instruction during the fall, she said.

Aside from being a coffeehouse, the Motley also served as a social hub and community space for events like open mics, shows and festivals, including last semester’s Black Arts Festival and Valentine’s Day Drag Show. Come fall, students and community members will no longer be able to enjoy similar events, get their favorite drink and snacks, socialize and study at the coffeehouse.

The Motley’s closure also likely means the halt of its sponsorship program, Nagarajan-Swenson said, which is funded through the coffeehouse’s revenue and allocates about $7,000 to students and student organizations for projects, conferences and other initiatives that support the Motley’s mission. Not being able to provide funding for students who need support will be a “huge loss,” Nagarajan-Swenson said.

Planned renovations for the Motley, which were supposed to happen this summer, have been put on hold, di Bartolo told TSL. There is no current updated timeline for the remodel, but it will still happen in the future, she said.

But Schill wasn’t optimistic about renovations happening anytime soon.

“Especially given the financial hits that Scripps has taken or is probably going to take this fall due to [COVID-19], I don’t see that remodel happening in the near future. Because we can’t afford it,” she said. “So Scripps was going to be very generous to help us out with a crazy expensive ordeal, and I just don’t think that that’s going to be able to happen.”

Schill explained that the costly remodel was necessary and urgent, saying Motley staff members “absolutely need” new equipment like espresso machines and refrigerators because some of the cafe’s current equipment was “totally failing” by the time Schill left campus in the spring, she said.

In spite of the numerous losses that come from the Motley’s temporary closure, however, Nagarajan-Swenson is still hopeful that impactful and critical work can be done.

“One of the main things that’s been on our minds is whether or not the Motley truly centers queer students, students of color, and [first-generation/low-income] students,” she said. “We’re grappling with how it’s an incredibly homogeneously white space, and we want to use the time that we’re closed to completely rebuild and rethink how we function and center our own communities and the communities around us.”

On a lighter note, Nagarajan-Swenson is also concerned with another endeavor. “[I’m] worried about needing to wean myself off of caffeine by the end of the summer,” she said.

This article was last updated June 17 at 6:08 p.m. to add comment from Associate Dean of Students Adriana di Bartolo.

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