Hannah Goldner Niederman
Existing on a college campus can be a difficult experience for so many reasons, and Covid has only made it more difficult. Being on Olaf’s campus during this time is absolutely a rare and great opportunity in comparison to other colleges that are completely online, but that does not mean that the choices being made about student life are right. The recent decision to change meals to be scheduled compounds a huge issue facing interim students on campus — access to food.
What was already reduced hours for both the Caf and the Cage has now become a minefield of scheduling conflicts and an increase of the question on many students’ minds, “Do I have time to eat today?” As someone who has been dealing with an eating disorder for many years, I already struggle with convincing myself to nourish my body with care and intention. I have spent many months working on teaching myself how to eat properly again, and now I find that progress has moved back to square one. Having only 45 minutes to eat at a set time with no alternatives is a slippery slope for all students, and extra difficult for those, like me, who already struggle with not nourishing themselves. This decision to limit open meals is supposed to be in response to Covid risk, but making this the only readily available food option can also create the opposite impact. Having little access to food on campus is only encouraging students to go off campus for food or to order delivery, which brings outside people into our “closed” community.
If you do find yourself going to the caf despite the new regulations, then there is the problem of the cafeteria’s limited options as well. Many would argue that St. Olaf has always had limited vegetarian, kosher, vegan, halal, gluten free, and allergy safe options. With the supply chain and understaffing issues faced during Covid, options have become even more limited. I see my friends struggling to convince themselves to go to the cafeteria but knowing that if they don’t, they might end up hungry or spending money they don’t have on delivery or vending machines.
It is difficult for me to understand how this was the decision that seemed the smartest, especially when Covid spreads in so many ways. Not every student eats in the caf., not every student goes to every meal, and not many are using the mealtime as a free-for-all maskless social gathering. Making a rule about this may seem like a straightforward way to limit exposure in the eyes of an administrator who does not live the life of a residential student, but it is simply not. It pains me to see this restriction alongside weekly experiences of walking past touring groups, visitors on campus, basketball games filled with maskless attendees, and non-college student visitors. It feels like hypocrisy right in front of my eyes, just begging me to say, “Why do the rules apply to some and not others?”
It has begun to feel like the school is saying that they value some students over the overall health and wellness of the rest of the campus. Policies should be made with care for the risk of everyone, with special consideration for those suffering disproportionate harm. Every decision made can have unintended consequences, but when the consequences impact the health of the student body, it is time for a deep reconsideration of that decision.
Hannah Goldner Niederman ’23 is from Skokie, Ill. Their majors are gender and sexuality studies, political science, and race and ethnic studies.