Life at St. Olaf moves at the speed of light – at times, it’s downright frenetic. Between full course loads, demanding co-curricular activities, the ceaseless hunt for a full eight hours’ sleep and making time to hang out with friends, there is rarely a stress-free day for us as college students. Why, then, must grabbing a bite on campus be so chaotic as well? Whether it’s making it to the cafeteria before a particular meal-time ends, maneuvering through the buffet-style lines when Stav Hall is stuffed with people or trying to find a seat during the peak of the dinner rush, having a meal in our dining hall might just give us all grey hair.
Our comrades over at Carleton – a school with approximately one thousand fewer students – have two cafeteria-style dining halls and two cafés from which to choose when tummies start rumbling. Why is it that the smaller of the two colleges in Northfield has twice the on-campus dining options?
If I had to put myself in the administration’s shoes, I’d guess their primary argument against building another dining hall on the Hill – besides finding the space for one and the fiscal resources to allow for one – would be that spreading students out across two primary dining facilities would take a wrecking ball to the thoughtfully constructed, close-knit atmosphere our single communal dining hall has facilitated. If I’m being frank, I think the powers-that-be would resist the idea of another dining hall because they value the College’s image as having an intentionally, intensely residential campus more than they value the comfort of its students.
Carleton is significantly closer to downtown Northfield than St. Olaf, giving its students better access to grub within walking distance. Oles without cars face a long trek on foot or a ride on an inconsistent network of shuttles if they want to eat off campus. While this is nothing more than coincidence, it does, in my estimation, provide the College with another argument against giving Oles another cafeteria. When one’s Flex Dollars and Ole Dollars hit end-of-semester lows and transportation is limited, one is quite literally forced to face the caf no matter how overcrowded it may be.
Will there be a solution in the near future for students who, like me, are dissatisfied with the current state of cafeteria crowding? I’d venture to guess there will not be. If St. Olaf’s Strategic Resource Allocation Project (SRAP) initiative and other cost-cutting ventures are of any indication, the College simply won’t be able to afford to break ground on a second dining hall at the drop of a hat. And, even if our finances did turn around overnight, there are probably much bigger fish to fry than adding another cafeteria – musicians and vocalists have been calling for an auditorium for at least a decade. Until a wealthy donor gives St. Olaf a few million dollars with a dining hall in mind, Stav Hall will remain the place we love to hate during the 6:30 p.m. dinner rush.
Alexa Johanningmeier ’21 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Saint Louis, Mo. Her major is undecided.