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Monday, Dec 11, 2023

Dining Services takes measures to accommodate students fasting for Ramadan

Grille hours have shortened due to understaffing.
Grille hours have shortened due to understaffing.

Muslim students fasting for the month of Ramadan from sunrise to sunset are left with limited hours where they can access dining hall meals at regular open times. In response, Middlebury Dining Services has taken measures to accommodate students who are fasting.

Dan Detora, speaking on behalf of the dining management team, said in an email to The Campus that Atwater and Ross Dining Halls, which close at 8:30 p.m., make meals with halal proteins that are available near the end of the dinner service for students to take as to-go meals. Proctor offers halal options but closes at 8:00 p.m. The team also noted that with sunset happening later every evening, this option does not always provide fasting students with sufficient time to grab their food.

According to the dining management team, dining services has worked with the Scott Center for Spiritual Life since at least 2006 to accommodate students observing Ramadan. However, a newer initiative has added food stocked in the Anderson Freeman Center (AFC) kitchen for fasting students.

“From conversations with Saifa Hussain, former Muslim Chaplain/Interfaith Advisor [at Middlebury], we created these protocols based [on] feedback from the Muslim students… [requiring] a single source for most of their food taken during Ramadan,” Detora wrote. Ross dining hall leads this operation due to the dining hall’s physical proximity to the AFC.

“All students have access to the AFC and free use of the kitchen at any point during the day,” Detora said. Stocked snacks include packaged cereal, peanut butter, granola bars and hard-boiled eggs. The food items are collected by Ross dining staff and then transported to the AFC via student volunteers.

This year, the Grille also provided free meals for observing students. However, for many students, this operation is not running as smoothly as hoped. There are currently five vacant late-night positions at the Grille according to Dining Services. “Because of that we are very limited in when and how we offer, not just Ramadan meals but something for all students. It makes what we can offer limited to certain days and times, unfortunately,” Detora said.

In order to remedy this issue in part, the retail team at Middlebury is “working diligently to expand offerings in MiddExpress,” Detora said. “Unfortunately, it all boils down to a man-power issue.”

According to Ahmed Akoad ’26, Muslim students who are a part of the MSA can receive a punch card which gives students free meals at the Grille. The card, however, can only be used Sunday through Wednesdays from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. But when asked for his opinion on the program, Akoad called it a “pretty sweet gesture.”

Effective April 7, the Grille shifted their hours operations to closing at 2:00 p.m. during weekdays and closed completely during the weekends.

“As far as I know, they offer Halal options for those observing Ramadan nightly, and that’s about all I know from the dining halls,” Akoad said.

He hasn’t been to the AFC kitchen, but called the food-stocking program “awesome.” “I know many of the students that are a part of the MSA,” Akoud said. “When the sun goes down they’ll pray together, and then they’ll go to the AFC and eat dinner together. So that kind of fosters a sense of community.”

He said this sense of community extends to the prayer space. “If you’re a member of the MSA, your ID card gives you access to the prayer room at any time, and you can stay there all night and just hang out. I think typically there are students in there, and they have food and a fridge in there. Some people stay up all night.”

“I think the school is doing an okay job — I mean obviously, it could be a little better but it’s not bad,” Akoud said. “I think some people are pretty upset about the whole Grille situation and the fact that it's closing early when Muslims need to be eating later.”

Taniya Noori ’25 said that she has been to the Grille once. She appreciates the sentiment behind the initiative, but describes the foods as “not my favorite,” and thus does not frequent the establishment. She did speak to the usefulness of the stocked AFC kitchen, however. “My friends often bring food from the AFC kitchen back to our dorms, and we sometimes do iftar [breaking of the fast] there,” she said.

She also finds the halal dining hall offerings helpful.

“I usually try to eat halal chicken or beef, so I’m glad they gave us this option. If we’re not in the AFC, we break fast in the Ross fireplace room, and it’s great to have halal foods available for that,” she said.

When asked for her opinion on how the school is faring in accommodating fasting students, she said, “I don’t know what other people would say, but I say they’ve been doing a pretty good job. Even though the Grille is closed now because of staffing shortages, between the MSA, AFC and halal dining, there are some good options for Muslim students.”

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