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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Notes from the Desk: New schedules mean new problems

Here’s what the end of an 11 a.m. lecture used to look like. 

Leaves are falling. It’s getting chilly. You’re getting antsy in your political science class that’s scheduled to end at 12:15 on a Thursday. Your professor is still finishing up their presentation at 12:15. You watch the clock nervously. 12:16. You envision the impending doom of an hour-long lunch line at your favorite dining hall. 12:17. Your heart sinks as you think of the friend that’s already inching forward in the lunch line. If another minute passes, there’s no chance you’ll be on the same timeline to eat together. 12:18. Class is finally done. All students swiftly rise out of their seats and shuffle out the doors. The chatter as you cross the street to Atwater dining consists of hushed talk regarding how long the line might be. After rushing to the dining hall, a line has already formed out the door. 

The lunchtime rush was a notorious disaster during the dreaded post-12:15 rush.  Thankfully, this semester, the school has reorganized and staggered classes around lunch differently. This has built up students’ hopes for a spring semester without miserable lunch lines and rushed meals in between classes. However, as the first week of classes unfolds, this new scheduling appears to have added some other potential problems. 

Before the schedule change, the lunch rush times were quite predictable based on the day. If one’s schedule allowed it, the 12:15 rush on Thursdays could be easily avoided. The rush was tough for those that were stuck with it, but many were well aware that a 12:15 lunch meant waiting in line for 30 minutes or longer. Unfortunately, even with staggered class times, these rushes still exist, but now they are far more frequent. Instead of one long line at 12:15, there are long lines following each lunch class release time. Granted, the lines are not as bad as before, but they still exist. 

More importantly, an absurd number of students now do not have time to eat lunch. Even in my small house, three out of five of us have several days a week where our class time completely overruns the lunch period. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., some students only have 15-minute passing periods to grab food. However, due to the lunch lines at these exact class release times, it is nearly impossible for a student to run in and out of a dining hall in time to grab food before their class, let alone sit down and eat.

This is not an uncommon issue. I know students in a variety of majors facing this problem. These students are packing a to-go sandwich at breakfast to eat in the 15-minute passing period between their classes or are relying on a friend to save them some food for after class. 

There are many problems with this. Lunch is important: a hungry student is a distracted student. Without consistent meals, students cannot be properly fueled to focus in classes and excel with extracurriculars. Students that miss lunch frequently may find themselves more distracted and unable to be productive while waiting for dinner. Suddenly, one’s schedule becomes totally restructured to align with Proctor’s early dinner opening hours. Students need the lunch period to unwind from stressful classes, be social and approach their day confidently. 

Although it may appear as if the lunchtime drama might be due to students’ poor scheduling choices, this is simply not the case. Unfortunately, after declaring a major, many students do not have a lot of freedom when choosing their class schedule. In order to fulfill one’s requirements, class selection for each semester might be very limiting. Limited selection leaves little room to pick and choose classes based only on their timing. 

The inability to have consistent and dependable lunch times may be additionally problematic for students that already struggle with disordered eating. In the 2022 Zeitgeist survey, 71% of respondents reported experiencing a difficult relationship with food or exercise while at Middlebury. This problem may only be perpetuated or exacerbated if all students do not have consistent availability to have a sit-down lunch.

If possible, an extension of the dining hall hours by just 15 minutes would allow some students to grab a quick bite after the lunch class hours and before dinner. 

It is unclear yet how this lunchtime drama will settle out as the semester continues forward. However, it is clear that right now the attempted solution to a lunch rush may have caused more harm than good for some. 

All in all, look out for your classmates. Bring them some snacks.