Starting next week, Valentine Dining Hall will no longer close its front doors at 7:30 p.m. Backed by popular demand, the staff will keep a limited selection of foods available to students. Students can head over to Valentine for sandwiches, salads, cereals, drinks, paninis and waffles up until until 8:30 p.m. Students can forget about desperate 7:30 dashes to Val, sliding under half-closed gates and 8:00 p.m. hounding for dirty plates; instead, we can look forward to relaxed after-meal hangouts, coffees and snacks.
However, the only change won’t be the added cold-food selection. With the dining hall’s front gates staying open for later, the atmosphere in Valentine will too change. Instead of needing to rush under front gates just waiting to be pulled shut, the majority of late-night and last-minute diners won’t feel the pressure of the clock at the gate. In addition, instead of being devoid of social life at 8:15 p.m., we think Valentine will become home to more relaxation, more students sporting books and laptops and the late-evening study break.
However, until the hot plates stay open longer, extending Valentine’s operating hours will not remedy the widespread hunger which sets in on-campus a few hours after Valentine closes, and the emptiness that haunts one of the main gathering spaces on campus. Many college campuses, both large and small, sport late-night dining — and this is knowing that “late-night” is not really so late for College students.
Given that the purpose of centralized dining is to foster common experiences and a feeling of community, any movement toward strengthening student presence in this central space would move closer toward fulfilling the goal of centralized dining — the idea is something both of which our College is so proud, yet miserably unable to overcome in reality. Of course, we cannot move to complete such a community vision without a radical transformation of Valentine from a space for food to a space of gathering and leisure — one that requires an investment of staffing, capital and energy of an overworked student body.
It seems quite sad that the College — both the student body and administration — have resigned themselves to spend their time here without any hopes for a sophisticated and fun environment in Valentine to lighten up the crowded, highly-efficient in-and-out dining experience that Amherst currently has. A look at each of our peer institutions will reveal ideas worth integrating here, which when taken as a whole would produce a more perfect campus atmosphere.
It has never struck the Amherst College spirit to give up on an opportunity for leadership and self-improvement, and we see a big opportunity opening up in a building Lord Jeffery shouldn’t fear showing to the world. It’s time we become proud of Valentine, and put our money where we say our community is.