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The campus dining draft

| Tuesday, March 21, 2023

I have half a semester left at Notre Dame. Time seems to be flying by and in the blink of an eye, I already see myself sitting in the stadium trying to stay focused throughout the commencement ceremony. This semester has been one of intense meditation and reflection: what I did and did not do in college, my accomplishments, my failures and just about everything else in between. Later this month, I will retire after eight semesters at North Dining Hall. It will be the culmination of an activity that has dominated my weekday evenings since I was a freshman getting used to life in South Bend, so it will no doubt be an emotional moment for me. 

Three years ago, right before we left for Spring Break to never come back, I was thrilled to have received the offer to become student manager. I gladly accepted and came back to the new role in the fall of 2020. It has been a wonderful experience, as I have learned in the midst and aftermath of a pandemic that completely altered the way food service works. One of the main issues North Dining Hall, and Campus Dining outlets as a whole, have had to deal with since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic is dealing with being short-staffed on a rather consistent basis. While part of this is due to macroeconomic trends that impact the industry in its entirety, some decisions made by the University administration have negatively impacted the way work gets done as well. Before the start of this school year, the student minimum wage was raised to $15 across the board, eliminating the differentiated pay that had been in place for years prior. Up to this year, Campus Dining student workers were paid more per hour than their non-Campus Dining counterparts. This increased pay was a crucial incentive that encouraged students to join our ranks. After it disappeared, our student worker numbers thinned as one could now make the same amount of money scrolling through TikTok and doing homework at a desk job instead of working in the dining hall’s homestyle lines.

In this column, I will lay out the imaginative and satirical solution I have developed through the years, which although unlikely to ever be implemented, is a fun topic of conversation when you’re in line for the bathroom at Newf’s or CJ’s. Firstly, I would reimplement the differentiated pay scale that already existed. If its disappearance made NDHs student worker pool shrink by almost 50%, taking it away was a bad thing. After all, one of our University’s ultimate objectives is not to have Campus Dining outlets that barely get by, but instead, have the ability to thrive and offer nothing but the very best to the student body. This would bring back the incentive to have students work for Campus Dining and reinvigorate the student worker programs in each outlet. In practice, this is probably the most realistic part of this entire plan to be implemented. The rest is clearly too imaginative and controversial to ever make it off the drawing board. 

The key component of my plan involves a solution straight out of a dystopian novel: a Campus Dining draft. Similar to what goes on in The Hunger Games, every dorm would offer five eligible students as tributes to work in either North or South Dining Hall for the course of a semester. One semester. Nothing more, nothing less. After all, the average student worker does not stay for more than a semester and a half, so the time of service falls in line with existing patterns. In my mind, these would be selected at random in a large dorm-wide assembly just like the Reaping in The Hunger Games. Perhaps the rector would do the choosing, but since this is Notre Dame, one can only imagine each dorm coming with their own selection traditions, like picking the shortest or tallest person on each floor, or a game of musical chairs. Naturally, the dorms geographically closest to North would send their draftees to NDH, while those nearest to South would end up there.

Doing this would guarantee 160 student workers for Campus Dining each semester, on top of those that already choose to work with them. Obviously, these drafted student workers would be paid, and the benefit of having such a large pool of draftees is that their total weekly time commitment would not exceed one or two shifts a week, which is under four hours. In exchange, the University would sweeten the deal for these students in order to make the arrangements more rewarding. Since dining halls are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, drafted students would receive priority registration in order to balance their classes with the needs of each dining hall. On top of that, they would also receive an additional 250 flex points, a sick Campus Dining cap and a moment of recognition in the stadium during a home football game in the same way our school’s athletic teams already do. After their semester is up, they would go home, become exempt from the draft and have another bullet point to their resume. 

“That’s so cool, but so insane” is one of the most frequent replies I receive from people whenever I elaborate on this plan. I am the first to admit that it is completely bananas and would never be implemented. After all, I came up with it for satirical purposes. It would probably be derided as “socialist,” “un-American,” “dystopian,” “idiotic” or “delusional” by quite a handful of people. It might even whip up a storm strong enough to end up on national television. However, it does retain an element of sense, and I just thought I’d share it with you, dear reader, before I move on to the next chapter of my life and completely forget about it.

Pablo Lacayo is a senior at Notre Dame, majoring in finance while minoring in Chinese. He enjoys discussing current affairs, giving out bowl plates at the dining hall, walking around the lakes and karaoke. You can reach him at [email protected].

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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