We need 24-hour dining

Colleges need to accommodate dining at all hours

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Collegian File Photo

By Manas Pandit, Collegian Contributor

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been trying to complete this article. In those same two weeks, I’ve also had midterms going on. This, as you can imagine (and I’m sure you can relate), has led to some late nights. While we’d all love to be early birds, most of us are not. To the average college student, the term ‘morning person’ conjures images of a mythical figure on a hill with their entire life perfectly organized. Societal messaging doesn’t help since morning people are constantly glorified in media and portrayed as something to aspire to.

To be clear, I have nothing against morning people. But for most of us, we are not them and that is perfectly okay. With the pressures of college, whether they are academic, extra-curricular, athletic or social, to not have every detail of your life calendared is permissible. What is not permissible is the denial of colleges to acknowledge this fact and unwillingness to make the requisite changes to their infrastructure to accommodate this.

By building dining halls and offering meal plans, colleges accept that it is their responsibility to make sure that students have access to meals. This is because most students reside on-campus, and universities are aware of this. What changes when the clock strikes midnight? Do the needs of students no longer apply because it is past normal hours? Or are we implicitly being told that we’re not supposed to be awake at this hour? That we’re supposed to be morning people?

If it’s the latter, then the point being made is quite ridiculous. It stems from the notion that college students awake late at night must be, for lack of a better term, fraternizing. Firstly, that is simply untrue, but more importantly, even if it is true, so what? Are we not within our rights to be social once the sun has set?

We’re being hinted the answer; we’re supposed to be morning people.

But let’s take universities at their word then and address the arguments they usually bring up when asked to consider 24-hour dining options. Staffing is the primary concern. Taking the case of the University of Massachusetts specifically, workers are already overworked in the dining halls, and so adding on a 24-hour dining option would be extremely unfeasible.

This argument would hold more weight if it wasn’t immediately undercut by the fact that UMass currently has plans for restaurant Chicken and Co. and food truck Baby Berk, both of which are open into the early hours of the morning. Of course, even these would-be positives perfectly display the University’s half-hearted attitude towards the concept of 24-hour dining; they aren’t yet functional.

It also ignores the myriad of ways in which the problem of staffing could be worked around, with self-serving or buffets being the most obvious solution. We’re not asking to be cooked gourmet meals at 4:30 a.m., we’re asking for something, anything to tide us over as we work on the eight different assignments we have, all of them due in a few hours.

Staffing concerns relating to COVID-19 are somewhat reasonable, though with the University’s obvious push toward relative normalcy you would think they wouldn’t be relying on these arguments. Yes, with COVID-19 still being a threat, staffing concerns are greater, but if that is the only obstacle to 24-hour dining, why was no action taken in the past? Why is there no evidence of action being taken to make this a reality in the future?

Budgetary concerns are often trotted out as an answer, but these serve more as a smokescreen than a substantial argument. The 30 highest paid state employees in Massachusetts work for UMass. Chancellor Subbaswamy rakes in nearly $500,000 a year. If the University has the money, why are they more willing to line their pockets than invest in the institution?

Ultimately though, this is not a UMass-specific problem. Barely any colleges offer 24-hour dining options. While greed obviously plays a role in fiscal endeavours on a scale as massive as university budgeting, it’s equally true that society seem to have a bias in favour of that mythical morning person. Striving towards waking up at 6 a.m. to go for a run before classes at 8 a.m. is seen as productive. Sleeping and waking up late is seen as us simply ‘being lazy’ or not being disciplined enough in how we live our lives.

That is wrong, plain and simple. It’s a societal attitude that needs to be fixed. It won’t be quick, but 24-hour dining options in colleges are as good a place as any to start.

We need 24-hour dining, and we need it now.

Manas Pandit can be reached at [email protected].