Val Breaks For Spring Break
By Stevie Lin Thacker '11
Last week, Val really outdid themselves. I was skeptical of the full day Mardi-Gras-themed menu, but was pleasantly surprised as I grabbed a shrimp po’boy to go at lunch and was blown away by dinner. Val has simply never been as delicious as it was last Thursday night (except for maybe once, three-and-a-half years ago at the Luau-themed dinner).

Excited, I went home to check the Val menu to see what part of the world we’d have food from the next week. I noticed something peculiar: Val is closed next Saturday. I know that next Saturday is spring vacation, but as a thesis-writing senior, I chose to forgo an off-campus trip to stake out my A-level cubicle and finish/begin my last chapter.

Maybe there was a mistake. The menu page for the week of spring break had no information, so I resorted to Google to see what was up. To my dismay, I found a page saying that there was a program over spring break for students on high financial aid to have food, and that all of these students had been notified and the program was already closed. This was the first and only information I received about Val being closed next week.

This is irresponsibile on the part of Amherst. I can understand, though begrudgingly, that perhaps it makes sense to shut down the dining hall over the Thanksgiving break. But spring break as well? Something about spring break, which conjures images of MTV beach houses and trips to Mexico, seems more frivolous than Thanksgiving, where most students go home to spend time with family. I can also understand that students don’t often need to stay at school over Thanksgiving to do work, except those graduating early who are finishing theses.

But spring break? For most thesis-writing seniors, our final(-ish) drafts are due within the first two weeks after spring break. Many seniors are planning on staying on campus to have time to focus on finishing up their theses without the distractions that exist when we have classes as well. Now, we have to worry about how to eat for every meal, which, given Amherst’s lack of cooking areas, will probably take more time and effort than going to class.

Perhaps the most irresponsible part of this situation is that it doesn’t seem as though the student body was ever informed that we would not be fed for those days. At this point, for me to buy a ticket home would cost approximately $540 more than if I had bought it two weeks ago. Had I been informed that the dining hall would close, I might have chosen to arrange to go home, where I would be less productive than at Frost but at least wouldn’t have to worry about finding the money and time to cook for eight days.

The College is not equipped to force us to rely on our own cooking abilities. In my dorm, my “kitchenette” consists of a dirty communal microwave lacking the turning plate. There are a few kitchens scattered throughout campus, but most of them lack any sort of cooking utensils, pots or pans. And with Valentine closed, they will be overflowing with seniors trying to cook. My most feasible options at this point are to eat out for every meal, which will very quickly become expensive, or to eat assorted snack foods for eight straight days.

The College does acknowledge, to a slight degree, that it is unreasonable to expect the students to choose one of these options, which is why they do have a very limited program for those students who have been identified by the Financial Aid office as having a high enough financial need. This arbitrary system eliminates any consideration for students whom the College thinks have less financial need, but are still on extremely tight budgets and for whom eating on their own for a week will actually be a huge problem; our day-to-day budget might have very little to do with our parents’ income. In addition, the cutoff for receiving this help seems to have been raised from past years. I know several people who received emails about food over breaks as recently as this Thanksgiving, but did not get an offer for spring break food.

By choosing to only notify those students whom the school decides have financial need, the school is neglecting to acknowledge the potential needs of the rest of the student body. Perhaps there aren’t many students who will be staying on campus who are in my conundrum. But if that were the case — for example, if there are only 50 people who will be on campus for spring break but do not financially qualify for the spring break foodprogram — would it really be outside of Dining Service’s budget to offer options to those students? It seems reasonable to ask that the program that is offered to high financial aid students be offered to everyone staying on campus. At the very least, the student body should be given an opportunity to make an argument to be able to participate in the program even though the school does not deem them qualified. There are many factors, not just yearly family income, which might cause a student hardship when suddenly faced with the need to provide our own food, and all of these issues should be considered.

At this point, I suppose there isn’t much we can expect Val to do for this year. Myself and a few others who know about the closure did not find out quickly enough to voice our concerns, and I imagine that many students won’t even know until they try to go to breakfast on Saturday morning. I’ve resorted to stocking up on dried mango and banana chips, and I am hoping my life-long fears of scurvy don’t finally catch up with me this spring break.

Issue 18, Submitted 2011-03-09 02:44:10