Dueling Emails Reignite Dining Hall Debates

Recent calls for students to stop taking dining materials from Val have resurfaced longstanding debates about the removal of to-go containers and overcrowding in the dining hall. Val says it has had to order more than 9,000 forks this year.

Dueling Emails Reignite Dining Hall Debates
Many students report being unable to find a seat during rush hour in the dining hall, resorting to makeshift tables and cups as to-go containers. Graphic courtesy of Stormie King ‘25.

Recent calls for students to stop removing plates, bowls, and silverware from the dining hall have reignited discussions about overcrowding in Val and the decision last May to remove to-go boxes.

Since the beginning of the school year, Val has had to order nearly 9,000 forks, 2,000 dinner plates, and 600 bowls to replace stolen items, amounting to roughly $4,000.

Posters have been put up in the dining hall asking students to refrain from removing these materials from Val, and on Thursday, Feb. 22, all students received an email from Student Affairs that raised concerns over the issue. It reminded students that the practice is prohibited, and that by ignoring this rule, students are ignoring the dining hall’s values of “kindness, respect, and sustainability.”

Not long after, students received another email responding to the first message, this one from a fellow student, Matthew Chun ’24. This email, which appeared to mimic the previous one, was addressed to Student Affairs, and claimed to represent the “Amherst Student Body.” It expressed worries over overcrowding and the lack of seating in Val, especially during peak hours.

Chun’s message cited Val’s removal of to-go boxes this fall, and its banning of personal reusable containers as key drivers of the recent overcrowding.

Ralph Johnson, executive director of campus operations, said in an email that Val is actively working to alleviate the issue of overcrowding. He added that the new dining hall, which is currently in construction, will have 300 more seats than Val.

Anna Piergentili, Manager of Dining Hall Operations, added that Val is working with colleagues to explore the possibility of staggering class dismissal times to reduce the number of students that show up at the same time during the dining hall’s busiest hours.

However, they both emphasized that in the meantime, it is not sustainable for students to continue to take dining materials from Val. According to Piergentelli, the removal of materials from Val has been an issue since 2020, and this year has been no different.

Both Ms. Piergentili and Mr. Johnson declined requests for in person interviews and preferred to answer all questions over email.

In an interview, Chun voiced his frustrations with Val’s lack of action on the overcrowding issue.

“There are various solutions to fix overcrowding. One of them would be to install more tables, and one of them would be to widely permit takeout containers like they used to. They could do it in the next five minutes where they just send an email saying you can bring your own tupperware,” Chun said. “But they don’t do any of [that], and disregarding the problem contradicts the idea that they are ‘striving to build communities over shared meals’” he continued, quoting from the Student Affairs email.

Part of Chun’s irritation comes from his personal experiences. He said that he and his friends have at times been forced to eat standing up at the smoothie table, and he has seen other people eating in places without tables.

Ana Mosisa ’24 said in an interview that she understood the frustration expressed in Chun’s email.

Mosisa added that even when the dining hall was crowded in previous years, it was “nothing like it is now.” For Mosisa, the difference was immediately apparent for her after she returned from studying abroad last spring. Like Chun, she cited moments where she has been unable to find a seat during lunch, or has opted to use a cup as a makeshift to-go container.

Both Mosisa and Chun also referenced Amherst’s increasing student population as a potential root cause of the problem. Considering Val's future between now and the implementation of the new dining hall, Mosisa said that the situation is unsustainable: “The school population is rising every single year, which is why I think the problem of overcrowding in Val has kept getting worse, from my sophomore through my senior year.”  

In a message to The Student, Chief Communication Officer Sandy Genelius noted that the student population has not increased constantly over the last four years. There are fewer students on campus this semester than the last two spring semesters, when pandemic-related deferrals likely swelled the student population.

Correction, March 25, 2024: This article has been updated to include information about campus enrollment across the last four years.