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Desserts in to-go boxes wait for stu­dents in the Knorr Family Dining Room. Haley Strack | Col­legian

Due to recent COVID-19 restric­tions, key fea­tures of the Hillsdale dining expe­rience have been dras­ti­cally altered. Gone are the days of people-watching in the Knorr Family Dining Room to your heart’s content. Wish you could lightly brush Bobby’s hand as he hands you some tater tots? You might have to wait a few weeks.

New dining guide­lines include 50% occu­pancy in the dining hall, ‘to-go’ boxes, and indi­vid­ually packaged meals. The expected, but irregular nature of Hillsdale’s new dining pro­ce­dures this semester has sent stu­dents into a frenzy, many citing fewer meal choices or incon­ve­nient seating arrange­ments as frus­trating obstacles to their semester. 

More changes include the ren­o­vation of Jitters Coffee into a grab-and-go station, denying some stu­dents their morning caf­feine buzz. While limited access to coffee does appear apoc­a­lyptic, some­thing tells me we’ll pull through. 

These changes might just be a blessing in dis­guise.

Per the Hillsdale College return-plan website, “food and cafe­teria ser­vices will con­tinue to operate in the same spirit with alter­ations and addi­tions made as nec­essary to enhance current san­itary pro­tocols.” 

Stu­dents no longer need per­mission to obtain a ‘to-go’ box in Bon Appetit. Now, they’re free to take food and go as they please. In fact, take-out options are being widely encouraged with the addition of three new grab-and-go sta­tions around campus. 

Now, stu­dents aren’t limited to the con­fines of a dining hall — and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Lately, the quad has been bustling with stu­dents enjoying mid-day picnics and sunset snacks. After being away from each other for so long, it’s nice to share meals outside, sur­rounded by the beauty of our campus. 

As they adjust to the ‘new normal,’ some stu­dents have raised com­plaints regarding the nature of the new dining expe­rience. While com­plaints could be attributed to the general ‘down with authority’ men­tality shared by many stu­dents, the little variety in meals, less oppor­tu­nities for coffee, and dimin­ished food service in AJ’s Cafe are legit­imate con­cerns. 

In reality though, Hillsdale’s new dining pro­tocol hardly limits stu­dents. If any­thing, stu­dents have more autonomy with extended dining hours and pre-packaged meals. 

We’re no longer limited to one location and strict two-hour time windows for meals. If you have a class to get to or a meeting that ran late, no worries! Run down to the dining hall to get a quick, or full, meal that you can take out and eat whenever is most con­ve­nient for you. Only have 10 minutes between class periods? Luckily, there are three grab-and-go loca­tions around campus to choose from.

Maybe we should con­sider keeping some of the changes, post-COVID-19. New seating arrange­ments foster a unique sense of com­munity — one that’s only made pos­sible with to-go options. While the table gives a strong sense of togeth­erness, that can be recreated with meals any­where on campus, like behind Central Hall. Dorm res­ident assis­tants also started a ‘Hills­dining’ schedule that encourages stu­dents to eat their dinner on the lawn of dif­ferent dorms every Thursday, giving them a chance to meet new people and catch up with old friends. 

Fur­thermore, the acces­si­bility of mul­tiple grab-and-go sta­tions is con­ve­nient for stu­dents who might not oth­erwise have time to eat. Sure, the school could explore envi­ron­men­tally-friendly to-go con­tainers and should re-convert Jitter’s Cafe to a coffee shop, but overall the dining changes are a net benefit for the college.

Of course, I can’t wait for the day when the smell of a cheese que­sadilla wafts from AJ’s Cafe once again. But right now, if the current options are nec­essary to con­tinue in person, count me in.

I’d take a pre-packaged salad over a Michelin star meal if it meant in-person classes. Hillsdale is one of the few insti­tu­tions con­ducting business as usual this fall — we should con­sider it a blessing that things look dif­ferent this year. We should con­sider it a blessing that we’re here to witness it at all.

The new changes aren’t ideal, but we’d be wise to remember the old proverb “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” With hun­dreds of uni­ver­sities shutting their doors to stu­dents this semester, be grateful that the doors to Knorr remain open.

We’re here, we’re healthy, we’re together. Let’s count our blessings this semester — not demand more.

 

Haley Strack is a sophomore studying Political Economy.