Valentine Dining Hall, known among students as Val, will debut a pilot program of extended dining hours called Val After Dark from Feb. 6 to March 13. Val After Dark will offer hot food and snacks between 9 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays during its six week pilot.
The Association of Amherst Students (AAS) passed the final proposal unanimously on Jan. 31. The pilot phase of Val After Dark will last until spring break, after which Director of Dining Services Joe Flueckiger, administrators and the AAS will decide whether the program has generated enough interest to continue.
Current plans for Val After Dark encompass more than late-night dining options. According to Flueckiger, the program will feature live music and entertainment, with the potential of installing a television as well.
Students and administrators have expressed interest in late-night Val hours for some time, but the plan began to crystallize after efforts from AAS senators Sterling Kee ’23 and James Hulsizer ’23. In his election speech for AAS, one of Kee’s main proposals was extending Val hours. Hulsizer later approached him to address the issue together on the plan.
“One of the first problems I noticed at Amherst was that I would be hungry after extracurriculars, and there would be no food options,” Kee said. “I wanted something that would be in the meal plan because it’s an equity issue — some students can’t afford to pay for Schwemm’s every night.”
Previously, the only late-night dining option on campus was Schwemm’s Pub, which is not covered under most meal plans. Students have to pay out of pocket for Schwemm’s unless they opt for the lunch and dinner meal plan, forgoing breakfast — an option that is unavailable to first-year students. However, Val After Dark will be open to all students since it is subsidized by AAS.
Hulsizer and Kee met with Flueckiger to discuss the logistics of extending hours. Flueckiger had previously noticed the demand for late-night food options, and Dean of Faculty and Provost Catherine Epstein had already submitted a proposal to the AAS for extended Val hours. However, the proposal only included snacks such as bagels and cereal, as opposed to hot food.
Flueckiger, Kee and Hulsizer later met with Epstein to brainstorm options for late-night Val but faced logistical problems. For one, Flueckiger and some AAS senators worried that the program’s extended hours would pull Val staff away from their families. Additionally, there were concerns about the additional expense of serving hot food. Hulsizer proposed adding a few free late-night meal swipes for Schwemm’s, but Schwemm’s does not have the capacity to withstand a large increase in demand. The meeting concluded without a satisfactory plan.
Hulsizer and Kee returned the matter to the AAS, and together they drafted a new proposal that would allow Val After Dark to serve hot food for the same price that snacks would have cost. AAS also drafted a solution with Flueckiger for staffing, in which some willing staff members will work overtime with the promise that no one will work past midnight. Should Val After Dark become permanent, Flueckiger plans to hire extra staff — potentially from the student body — to work during the late-night hours. Applications for student workers during the pilot program first appeared in the Daily Mammoth on Feb. 3.
The AAS played a crucial financial role in facilitating Val After Dark. According to AAS President Avery Farmer ’20, the AAS will help pay for the pilot program through their budgetary surplus fund, which is estimated to contain around $600,000. The budgetary surplus fund will cover for half of the Val After Dark expenses — around $2,000 — during the pilot program, and Val will pay for the other half through an “explained budget variance,” according to Flueckiger. If the program becomes permanent, administration will increase Val’s budget.
Val After Dark will also provide vegetarian and vegan options for those with dietary restrictions, according to Flueckiger, though it wasn’t made explicit from the menu sent to the student-body in an email from the AAS. Hulsizer noted students’ interest in Val After Dark after he posted about it on Instagram: his announcement was reposted 96 times by students. IK Agba ’23, who liked Hulsizer’s post, was thrilled that Val After Dark would provide food through the meal plan.
“There have been so many days where I’ve been on the verge of starvation but had no money,” Agba said. “I think it’s going to be a real hit for people to know that they don’t have to order food [at the end of the school week] and that their community is providing for them at their worst hours,” he added jokingly.
“I’m excited to see how many other people this could matter to,” Flueckiger said.