by NIYAH YISRAEL
The cushioned chairs and balcony outside the top of the UC dining area should be open for students to eat during mealtimes, not only because there are more students on campus, but also because it allows for COVID-conscious spacing and easier conversation between individuals.
In previous years at the top of the UC, students were able to bring their food to the cushioned chairs and balcony outside the crowded dining area. While this is not a new policy, many students have never experienced it being enforced until now.
“They’ve never allowed outdoor seating with their utensils. It’s not new,” commented CJ Porter, the director of transfer and off-campus student services, on the Class of 2022 Facebook page.
However, in years past, students have sat outside the main dining area with utensils. Now, due to the enforcement of this policy, students are forced to eat inside where it is crowded, they can barely hear the person sitting next to them and they only have 45 minutes to eat. The 45-minute rule was put in place this year to limit the number of people in the dining hall at a time.
When eating in the dining hall, students have their masks off, which eliminates the barrier that usually exists to block respiratory droplets that can transmit COVID.
“The addition of COVID also hurts, making it more stressful to eat inside around all the people without masks, which makes me even less happy and likely to even go to the UC unless I must,” said Braden Roberts, a senior double majoring in English and religion.
According to the CDC, on-site outdoor eating with tables six feet apart is a safer option than eating indoors. Therefore, UMW should change their policy and allow students to eat outside or in more spread out areas, like the indoor seating area surrounding the dining hall, for the sake of safety.
If students were allowed to sit outside on the balcony, they would be less likely to spread COVID-19. Additionally, if the indoor chairs by the stairway or the smaller enclosed eating areas on the sides were available, they could not only space people out more, but also allow more people a place to sit and eat their food.
In addition to the COVID-safe benefits, some students just prefer sitting outside the main dining area.
“I like eating outside when the weather is nice,” said Amber Brown, a senior double majoring in communication and digital studies and political science. “It also feels nice to get fresh air away from being crowded in the UC.”
Ashley Vaughan, a senior biology major, finds dining indoors at the top of the UC frustrating.
“The last time I was in the UC, you could not have paid me to stay longer,” said Vaughan. “I couldn’t hear anything [my friends] were saying, and when some of them put their masks back on after eating, I couldn’t even rely on lip reading anymore. I think we were there for 15 minutes because all of us were frustrated. There was no point in being there if we couldn’t even hear each other.”
Other students fondly remember sitting outside the dining area.
“Outside seating at the top of the UC was always my preferred location,” said Roberts. “Not only is it quieter and comfortable, my friends and I can carry a conversation without feeling like we can’t hear each other. Before this year, I had never seen any enforcement of this, and my friends and I had eaten there every day.”