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Saint Mary’s students react to renewed indoor dining by reservation, introduction of plexiglass partitions

| Friday, October 9, 2020

In past years, campus dining at Saint Mary’s consisted of students cramming almost 12 people around a table, enjoying meals and studying for hours on end.

Since August, dining at Saint Mary’s has looked a little different — students laying out blankets, eating on the grass or dining in a tent on the Student Center lot. Some students eat their meals in the dorm lounges or even in their rooms. The College’s dining experience is changing once again, following a Sept. 30 email from dean of student academic services Karen Chambers, announcing a return to indoor dining. The email explained if students wish to dine inside, they are to make reservations through PRISM — similar to signing up for a class — and are expected to appear within the designated block of time.

Students are now able to dine indoors with four to a table behind plexiglass barriers separating them from each other. While some students said they are grateful for the effort put forth, others are struggling to adapt to the new dining experience.

Sophomore Erin Dotson emphasized that the plexiglass barriers are an impediment to having an enjoyable conversation.

“You can hear your voice reverberating through the glass, and it’s incredibly difficult to hear while trying to have conversations with your friend group, even when at the same table,” Dotson said.

Though indoor dining options offer an opportunity to escape the cooler weather, the glass partitions look strange and separate friends from each other, first year Emerson Henry said.

“I think it’s great to have indoor dining again since it’s getting cold, but I am also not a fan of the plexiglass,” Henry said. “It’s kind of hard to hear with the plexiglass, especially for being hearing impaired.”

As the days get colder and more individuals might wish to eat inside, Henry said she’s worried the limited seating space might create problems for the student body.

“We want to eat inside, but it’s just going to get harder as it’s gets colder and people are going to fight for tables,” she said.

Juniors Isabella Thompson-Davoli and Sarah Frick agreed that the half-hour time slots provide another challenge, as normally meals are very casual and people tend to meet up at arbitrary times.

“It is very difficult to plan and stay on a strict schedule of exactly when we should eat,” Frick said.

Thompson-Davoli and Frick said they think a better approach would be to have a restaurant-like system, where a host directs you to a table, instead of the current system which requires that one abide by a strict schedule and routine.

“The limit of only four people to a table due to the plexiglass barriers was difficult,” Thompson-Davoli said.

Some students voiced concerns about the elimination of the ice cream machine, which was considered a dining hall staple in previous years.

“I was expecting dining to be a focal point of where you meet your friends, where you interact and see other people that you didn’t see during the day,” first-year Reese Bauer said. “[The dining hall is] supposed to be a place to get away from any social drama or stress that we’re feeling and a place to just relax. Especially during COVID, there is no way to ‘get away,’ and this can’t serve as a getting away place either.”

Despite these difficulties, Dotson said she is happy to have the opportunity to eat indoors again.

“I think the efforts put forth by the school are taken into consideration,” she said. “If they forced us to eat in our rooms, then I wouldn’t be able to do that. They are putting forth an effort and I am grateful.”

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