If before this issue of the Campus hit the stands, you were to walk up to a student in Proctor and ask them what they think about the new dining swipe system coming soon, most would look back at you puzzled. “What swipe system?”
Here’s what we know. A swipe system will be implemented. This is not a meal plan. Students will have unlimited swipes; the swipe system is only meant to keep out people “riding the panther,” who are eating in the dining hall without paying for it. The system is meant to collect data — to learn how many meals we are serving and how much it costs per meal. This data will then be used to look critically at our dining system. More data is never a bad thing. But the decisions that are made from that data could be. We welcome the much-needed information. All we ask for is a seat at the table when we decide what to do with it.
While this system is still in its infancy, we need student input in this process going forward. All the information we know is in this week’s Campus. As we move forward towards a swipe card system and possibly a meal plan, it is vitally important that the administration be as transparent as possible.
Our dining system has long been a stalwart of community at Middlebury, one of the main things our tour guides laud on their treks across campus. At a school with increasingly few common spaces, the dining halls operate as a student center. They are where groups meet, where friends run into each other, where we can take a breather from the pressures of courses and extracurriculars. The openness of our dining system creates the strong community that attracted many of us to Middlebury in the first place. Moreover, at a school where navigating class privilege is tricky, dining remains a level playing field where everyone has equal access regardless of financial status. Maintaining that equality is key. What and how we eat in our dining halls affects us every single day; therefore, we need to be involved in this process going forward.
Adjusting our dining system could result in greater flexibility for students. A one-card system, for example, could provide a debit card of sorts where students could also buy food at the Grille, 51 Main, and other College-operated venues without having to carry cash. But this transition must occur delicately, for even minor changes could rock the boat and change ways we interact as a community.
Just as there were committees on alcohol and the honor code – both issues with great impact on students – there should be a committee on dining, with student representatives working with faculty, staff and administrators.
Once this data is collected, we should help decide what the next steps are. Evaluating our dining system could be a J-term class, just as we did with Carbon Neutrality. There are already many students interested in food issues — from Eat Real to Weybridge House to the campaign for the new Food Studies minor — and they could be valuable assets to any decision-making bodies.
Moreover, we need the opportunity to ask questions and engage as a student body. We need someone to address our concerns about the swipe system, because we have an incomplete picture. This announcement has been made without adequate details to quell student anxieties, and with such a touchy subject, rumors are sure to fly. Those responsible — Shirley Collado, Patrick Norton and whoever is named Executive Director of Dining Services — need to answer these questions and solicit student involvement quickly before this plan turns into something it’s not.
Artwork by AMR THAMEEN