Of all the spaces on campus, from the lovably odd proportions of Seeley Mudd to the monumental neoclassicism of Fayerweather, none is more essential to the way I live life at college than Valentine Dining Hall. I admit, the building isn’t exactly gorgeous — the facilities are becoming rapidly obsolete, and god forbid I ever step foot in Russ Wing, but I firmly believe that Val is the figure around which social life on campus is centered.
Val's position as the sole dining hall for all of campus is unique. Smith, for example, has small dining areas across campus, UMass obviously needs several different high-capacity sites, and even Williams has several options located near concentrations of housing on campus. Val is Amherst's only dining hall, and thus is the only large gathering space which ensures that many different types of students will share space at the same time. Upperclassmen eat shoulder-to-shoulder with freshmen, and even in the hours in between meals, it is impossible to predict who you might see sitting at one of the upstairs tables.
Val is tiny just like our college is tiny — as is so often repeated, it is as difficult to avoid running into someone as it is easy to meet a variety of people. Much of the reason for that is our tiny little dining hall. Almost everyone is there, always.
And yet, Val does manage to quiet down when not serving hot food. Those quiet hours truly are the best that Val has to offer: the sounds of talking and activity are reduced to a gentle murmur and the tables near the huge windows become a unique kind of tranquil.
The silence of those moments is made all the better by the knowledge that, soon, the hall will burst into activity again, and all of those empty seats will fill with people and food and raucous conversation. And even when it doesn’t, you never know who is going to walk up those stairs. That’s the thing about Val — it’s the one place where it could be anyone.
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