I'm Hungry For a Late-Night Dining Option on Campus

People get hungry late at night — especially college students. But on this campus, we have a multi-faceted food problem: on one hand, nothing on the meal plan exists to serve students past 7:30 p.m. (as in, there is no “free” food). While we do have Schwemm’s as our sole on-campus alternative, we have to pay for it. And when Schwemm’s closes, at midnight from Sunday-Wednesday and at 2 a.m. otherwise, the hungry are forced to order delivery from one of the many pizza and/or wings establishments in the greater Amherst area. While I support our community’s support of local eateries, I think Domino’s will do just fine without the late-night 5-5-5 orders from the ‘Herst.

I’m a big Schwemm’s fan, and I go there often. In fact, I just ordered a burger with sautéed onions and red peppers from our campus center coffee house (more on this subject after my first bite). However, I’ve noticed a few issues with Schwemm’s as of late that contribute to the food problem on campus. One concern of mine is Schwemm’s new policy of closing the grill an hour early to “cool it down.” I’m not a grill expert, but there is no way it takes that long for a grill to cool down (in the past, I know, it was about 15 minutes — not an hour — that was required). And what this does for students is to prevent anyone from getting hot food (like that burger … so delicious) on campus after 11 p.m. Furthermore, the unpredictability of the grill’s availability causes students to lose faith in Schwemm’s as a food option, which is sad, given the constant backlash against Val.

The primary problem is Keefe’s hours: before the budget cuts of 2009, Schwemm’s was open until two every night. When the campus center budget was reduced by 15 percent, though, the late-night hours were the ones to go. Dean of Student Activities Hannah Fatemi told me that the reason for the shortening of hours was strictly monetary: since the bulk of the campus center budget goes to the salary of the Campus Center Managers, who would make $17 during that two hour period, Keefe closes earlier to accommodate the cut. Calculated over the course of the year (for two extra hours each of four “early nights” per week), this salary comes to about $4,000 — more on that in a moment.

Schwemm’s has to pay its employees, too, but that funding comes from Dining Services, which I assume would make a large profit by staying open later. The most popular hours for the campus center, during every night shift I’ve ever worked in Keefe, are from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. — especially on weeknights — because everyone is awake, doing work and getting reeeeeally hungry or thirsty during the many hours after Val has closed for the day.

During those hunger-filled Sunday through Wednesday nights, since the budget cuts, the only option is ordering more expensive, greasier and generally less tasty delivery food. The blame for this, of course, does not rest with Dean Fatemi, but with those who decided that the campus center, a hub of student activity on campus, should have its budget cut. I understand that the College instituted an across-the-board budget cut to deal with the economic recession, but to include something so essential to student life (a campus center open late, and available late-night food, drinks and coffee) is nonsensical. Moreover, this poor decision points to what I view as a widening gap, at this school, between what students want and what the administration thinks they want. Any student can vouch for the inherent value of a campus center that stays open late — whether for its function as a café, place to do homework, conversation spot by a soothing fire or social venue.

One solution to our late-night nourishment problem is to change Keefe’s hours back to how they were prior to 2009, and keep the place open until 2 a.m. every night. And if the issue is truly monetary, I’d ask this: Is Amherst College, with its $1.5 billion endowment, unable to shell out a mere $4,000 to keep Keefe open until two a.m.?! Couldn’t we divert funds from somewhere to keep Keefe open late? Equally disconcerting — why are we analyzing these issues in such a strict economic sense? I would think — and expect — that a college so devoted to its students, to its community and to its “education on a residential scale” would seek to think holistically about the college experience, and come to realize the non-monetary worth of a place where students can sit, talk, share a meal and relax after a stressful day. During my sophomore year, I would often walk back to Crossett from the library late on a weeknight and stop at Schwemm’s. Usually, I’d run into some friends, and enjoy a lil’ snack by the fire. Now, unless you sprint from the library to Keefe before 11:57 or so, you’ll probably miss out. At the very least, Keefe needs to stay open until the library closes, at 1 a.m.

Something that I’d love to see in the future, that I don’t think is unreasonable by any means, is for Val to offer a late-meal — maybe from 10 p.m. to midnight — during the week. Most every school has some sort of after-hours food available — or a “fourth meal” or something of that sort. Hot food is ideal, but even something as simple as snacks and coffee/tea would be a marked improvement over our current no-food setup. Because even if Schwemm’s stayed open later, there would still be no meal plan option for late-night. And at a school like Amherst, where we have all this money to allocate, there is no reason that students should have to spend $8, $10, $12 per night to satiate their hunger by ordering delivery food from town. When it comes to food, we students need some help here.