Photo: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik.
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On Jan. 9, certain restrictions were put in place to solve recurring problems at the 24/7 dining hall—new meal periods for non-meal plan holders, and a standard that bags and backpacks were to be stored in cubbies by the entrance while students use the caf. These methods were designed to solve the lack of seating available at certain points. Some feel that these policies are too inefficient to really tackle these issues, while other students believe it was the right call.

Yes, the new rules are too restrictive

Let’s travel back in time to exam season and remember what the dining hall was like. There were books, laptops and people everywhere. There was no room to breathe. Meal plan holders and cafeteria staff were frustrated, and students were overwhelmed by the amount of people in the cafeteria. Obviously there are issues that need to be worked out with the new dining hall, but restricting access to the cafeteria for students who don’t have meal plans is an ineffective way to deal with the issue.

A major problem lies in the fact that the university’s prioritization of meal plan holders is biased against upper-year students—paying customers—whose tuition has helped pay for the new dining hall.

As for the new meal periods, there are more efficient ways to handle the issue of students wearing out their welcome than removing them after a certain time. For example, the caf could operate on a system similar to a parking garage, charging a flat rate with an amount added every given number of hours you stay after that time. Students would receive a ticket upon entering and, should they stay for longer than the specified hourly limit, would pay for the extra time as they leave.

Along with limiting the amount of potential seating spaces, the bag storage policy can makes for an anxiety-ridden trip to the dining hall. Typically the cafeteria is a stop before, after, or between classes, and as such students’ bags are often filled with valuables such as laptops and textbooks.

Not only is it scary to leave a bag full of valuables in a high-traffic area where things could be stolen or stepped on, but many people also have similar backpacks, and it would be extremely easy to mix up your bag with that of someone else. A lot of students struggle to pay for books, rent, groceries, and everything else that comes with attending school. The last thing anyone needs is the unforeseen expense of replacing lost or stolen goods.

It is clear that there are more efficient alternatives to stopping students from overstaying their welcome at the dining hall. There are definitely issues that must be addressed, but the solutions should cater to all students, not just prioritize those in residence.

No, dining hall restrictions on par with policies at other buffets

The 24-hour dining hall is an experiment for the U of O, and is going to have to be changed throughout its operations so that it can provide the best service possible for its users. Upper-year students in particular may not like the new changes, but these rules are designed to prioritize the people who have no other options for dining, students with meal plans. Upper year students have to accept that students living in residence are going to be served first, because they’re paying between $2,500-$4,300 a year for their meal plan.

To begin with, Food Services’ policy that forces people to leave and re-enter at the start of a new meal time is no different from the rules that off-campus buffets, like Fusion House, would ask their customers to adhere to.

It’s true that upper year students did partially foot the bill for the new dining hall, and will continue to pay to keep it running. However according to a previous issue of The Fulcrum, only about a quarter of the construction cost came from the university, with the majority coming from revenue earned by Food Services. Just because some of our fees were used doesn’t put us on the same level as first years who, in addition to their tuition fees, have to pay the cost of a pricey meal plan. The fees we paid don’t give us any extra rights in a cafeteria that should be rightfully focused on students in residence.

If the dining hall is going to stay fiscally viable, it has to earn money. The dining hall is within its rights to ask people to re-enter at different pay times and would be foolish not to do so, since it allows them to make more money and to free up seats for new people.

It’s easy for upper-year students to complain about the dining hall’s focus on first-year students, but think back to your own time as a freshman. Personally, I ate in the cafeteria at least four days a week last year, as opposed to maybe once every two months now.

First-years and other students living in residence are often still trying to get settled into their new environment, so they don’t have the time to worry about feeding themselves properly. They also have fewer food options available to them and that should be accounted for with policy changes.

As for complaints about cubby holes or not letting people bring bags to their tables, if you need to study, do it in the library. As nice as it is to set up and eat while watching Netflix or doing work, ultimately that’s not what the dining hall is for. With issues of inadequate seating being a concern for Food Services, the dining hall isn’t in any position to exist as a workspace, as nice as that would be.

It’s easy to complain about new rules that look and feel restrictive, but the reality is that we’re just being treated the same way we would in a buffet trying to control its diners. It doesn’t feel good to be told what we can’t do with a space, but maybe it’s needed so we can learn to treat the cafeteria like a cafeteria, not a library or our own kitchen.