Dining halls and parking lots stretched thin due to over-enrollment

By SJ O'Connor

Emmanuel Tamrat
Students wait in long lines for lunch, while staff deal with severe labor shortages.

At the end of morning classes at 12:15 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday, students begin flooding into Proctor Dining Hall. The food line stretches beyond the doors and out to the Middlebury Chapel. In Ross, the line runs from the serving stations to the Ross Fireplace Lounge and wraps back on itself, leading out into the hall. As Middlebury faces the dual challenges of over-enrollment and understaffing, aspects of student life from dining hall lines to parking tickets have demonstrated the ways the college’s resources are stretched thin.  

Dining halls have struggled in the first weeks of the semester, with more students than ever to feed and about half of the staff that they had before the start of the pandemic, according to  Michael Gose, who has worked as a dining hall staff member at Middlebury for six years. The crowds that file into the dining hall during rush hour overwhelm the staff, who are working triple their normal workload. As students leave, dishes pile up, and it takes longer to clean them with fewer staff.

In 2019 — when the school was fully enrolled at approximately 2,500 students — the dining hall had one staff member at each station. Now, one person works about three stations at a time, taking on additional responsibilities with more than 300 extra students to serve and clean up after. In addition, all dining hall staff are pulling more overtime hours and have to close stations earlier so they can leave closer to a normal time. 

“Dealing with pandemic things [in the dining hall] changed a lot, and now we have to get back to normal, which is a challenge. With Covid, a lot of our staff have left and we have not been able to bring back the amount of workers we need to support us,” Gose said. 

The number of dining hall staff members has declined over the past year, as employees have left for other jobs or quit out of concern about contracting Covid-19 from students in the dining halls, according to Gose.

“I don’t remember a time I’ve ever seen the Proc line actually go outside. Ross sometimes got pretty crowded, but I’ve still never seen the lines get this long,” Kristina Pompilio ’23 said.

In an email sent from Dean of Students Derek Doucet on Sept. 23, students were encouraged to eat outside of the lunch rush — if possible. 

“We all know that lunchtime on Tuesdays and Thursdays can be hectic,” the email reads, “but there are some ways you can help to spread out traffic, help our friends in dining services, and enhance the dining experience for all. If you don’t have a class that ends at 12:15 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays (there are approximately 1,300 of you who don’t), consider taking lunch early on those days. Or opt for Atwater, which is less heavily used than Proctor and Ross.”

Along with long wait times in dining halls, students have struggled to find spaces in the college’s parking lots — and have received tickets for parking on grass or in faculty lots as a last resort.

“I have not even used my car yet because I’m afraid I’ll get a ticket if there isn’t parking when I return. Middlebury needs to be more flexible or come up with a solution,” Thea Joseph ’22 said. 

Public Safety has ticketed cars parked outside of their permitted lot, or on the grass, where many students have been parking when there are no available spots in the lots close to them. 

First year students are required to park their cars in the Q Lot, beside the Mahaney Arts Center on the edge of campus, while sophomores, juniors, and seniors are allocated space in both the Q Lot and in other student lots around campus. The Q Lot — a fifteen minute walk from many upperclassman residences — often has spaces when the far closer R Lot and E Lots are full, but students returning to campus late at night when lots are full are reluctant to walk nearly a mile to their dorms. 

“Parking is available on a first-come first-serve basis,” PubSafe said in an email to The Campus. “​There is adequate student parking on campus. ​It just is not always in the lot preferred by the vehicle operator.”

Jonah Joseph ’24 said it still felt like too many passes were distributed to students. 

“It’s very clear Middlebury needs more parking,” Jonah said. “And if they don’t provide it, they need to be more flexible.”

Tickets range anywhere from $10 to $50 for parking in the wrong place. Students are also allowed to use most faculty and staff lots during the weekend, but must move their cars back to a student lot before Sunday at midnight.