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Saint Mary’s outdoor dining tent brings mixed reactions

| Thursday, February 11, 2021

From outdoor picnic tables to plexiglass dividers, Campus Dining at Saint Mary’s is continually changing. This semester the new addition is a heated dining tent on Library Green. Many students have mixed emotions on this new edition.

Meg Lange | The Observer
The heated dining tent on the College’s Library Green provides a communal space for eating and socializing.

“Overall I like it, I like that it’s an option without plexiglass, I think it’s fun, sitting outside is a nice change,” junior Grace Dennis said when asked her thoughts on the new addition. “It’s just harder to sit with a group of friends because fewer people can sit at one table. The fact that it’s two per table is kind of cringe because it almost promotes being anti-social or having smaller groups or cutting people out.”

Junior Caroline Christian said she enjoys having the option as a change of scenery as the student body is urged to remain on campus.

The new dining tent resolves issues some students were having in the Noble Family Dining Hall last semester, such as not being able to hear other students and having a normal conversation because of the plexiglass barriers.

First-year Emerson Henry felt this problem was magnified among the deaf and hard of hearing community.

“It’s hard to have barriers in the dining hall, especially being a deaf student at Saint Mary’s,” Henry said. “Whenever I eat in the dining hall with my friends, it’s difficult to hear, and I feel like I am missing out on what my friends are talking about. I don’t go to sit down in the dining hall that much because of the difficulty of being able to hear through the barriers.”

In the tent, however, there are no such barriers to impede conversation.

A Tuesday email from Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Gloria Jenkins shared new rules and policies concerning the tent.

Jenkins detailed new restrictive hours of operation which are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., but students may only unmask during the lunch hours of 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. With the new hours, students are only permitted to eat lunch in the tent on weekdays, and they may not eat breakfast or dinner in the tent.

“It’s an OK way to put restrictions on the tent, but you would think there would also be dinner hours, too. I find it odd how there are lunch hours but no dinner hours,” first-year Olivia Pandolfi said.

The new dining hours are confusing to some, like Dennis.

“I think it’s kind of random because then what’s the point in having it at all if you can’t have it on a consistent basis,” she said. 

Saint Mary’s staff members will be overseeing activity in the tent “during all hours of operation and full time during the lunch window,” Jenkins said.

“It feels like I’m in fifth grade again,” junior Shelby Franken said.

Others see the new rule as thoughtful in ensuring students’ safety.

“I guess it’s good,” Christian said. “I had never thought about that, so I guess it’s good that they’re thinking about all the different options.”

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