By Noor Al Hasanat
Last month, the Friday before spring break, students staying on campus were determined to let Residential Life know how dissatisfied and frustrated they were regarding yet another cancellation of shuttles to Big Y to get food, as dining halls remain closed over break.
The information came on short notice in an email stating: “The Office of Residential Life is sponsoring trips to Big Y over March break and is in need of a driver. If you are interested in driving over break, have a fleet license, are a work-study student, and would like to apply the application, dates and times can be found on JobX. If I cannot find a driver I will have to cancel the Big Y trips.”
Students expressed their anger with ResLife in a thread of emails indicating resentment for the lack of planning regarding transportation to food sources. The SGA President shared results from the Student Conference Committee survey stating: “According to the 2015 SCC survey: 23% of respondents generally stay on campus for Thanksgiving, Intersession, and/or March break. Of that 23%, 85% are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied by the lack of campus dining available over breaks. Of that 23%, many are interested in purchasing meals during breaks.”
Concern by and for students who stay on campus is not new. An article by Hildegard Zippert, class of 1952, expresses concern about “foreign students” on campus:“Where can [the student] spend spring recess? How can [the student] afford lamps, curtains and a bedspread for [their] room? Certainly the problems of 36 foreign students at Mount Holyoke College matter to nearly all their newly-acquired college friends.” In 1952, Mount Holyoke students were invested in the life and the comfort their fellow “foreign students.” Sixty-three years later, we remain ineffective when facing issues regarding student accessibility to resources over break. What does one do when they are hungry and do not have a shuttle to take them them to Big Y, or the money to afford buying meals at the Village Commons? How can they afford transportation when the free PVTA stops running? How will they make their own food when a limited number of Golden Pear kitchens are open, and waiting in line to cook is very inconvenient? Certainly the issue of (in)accessibility to resources on campus for 23% of the student body should matter to everyone in this college.
When students are stressing about how they will sustain themselves over break, everyone should be concerned, especially ResLife. To quote one student’s response, “When I first got the email this morning, I'll admit I was a bit nervous about how I was going to feed myself over break when I don't have the funds to eat out or call for delivery every day of break. I was so afraid MHC was going to leave students like me hanging out to dry.” This calls for action. How do we, as a community, prevent these anxieties from plaguing our fellow students?
On this campus, we have people of different backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, identities, and ages. Some of these people do not have homes and families around to help them out or offer support. Due to the nature of our diverse community, the administration should be aware of these situations when admitting individuals who do not fit the classic archetype of an American college student. Mount Holyoke meets their financial needs to be able to attend this college and make it their new home. We cannot pride ourselves and advertise our diversity, however, and not accommodate it adequately. Break, for a good portion of these students, is an economic disaster that requires a very well-planned budget. When this budget relies on transportation provided by the college to buy food -- and when this vital need is taken away from them -- the student has every right to be angry.
Anyone who claims it is not the job of ResLife to provide trips for people staying on campus during break is simply misinformed. Chapter 6 of the Residential Life Handbook states “there are trips to local supermarkets to buy food during Thanksgiving Break, Winter/December Break and Spring Break so that students may purchase food.” This is not a reflection of what happened last month. The email that went out violates how ResLife advertises itself to students who consider staying on campus over breaks. In addition, as mentioned on its website, the purpose of ResLife is “to partner with Mount Holyoke College students in creating and engaging in inclusive, compassionate and authentic communities.” And yet, these students had to fight for a partnership with ResLife to create access for those who most needed it.
To the students who have the privilege of saying “Well, we shouldn’t be spoon-fed by ResLife,” I say this: we are not equal. Students come from a variety of economic, social, and familial backgrounds. Some of us had gold spoons feed us growing up, some of us had silver -- and some of us had sticks. Sticks that are used by the privileged to beat and shame us. This beating is justified by rhetoric indicating that people shouldn’t be “pampered,” that they should adapt to the “real world” on their own. Students are expected to arrive equipped with a master plan to face the hardships they experience. To alleviate this, we must acknowledge the vast economic division within the student body in our policy making and dining services planning.
At the end of the day, you are not on your own in the real world. You move through life with other people. This community should strive to reflect that.