The battle of the coffee bars

You are in line at a coffee bar.  You reach into your pocket and pull out your OneCard with that picture you so desperately wish you could retake. You decide what you want to consume, trying not to think about the exponentially decreasing number of points in your account. Are you in Kohlberg, or are you in Sci?

Although admittedly lacking in the intellectual stimulation characteristic of your class debates and of the endless entertainment the presidential debates provides, Kohlberg v Sci is the question with which Swarthmore students are faced when we seek an efficient source of rejuvenation in the form of food or caffeine.

There is plenty of overlap in the products offered at the two bars. Both provide most of the snacks and juices you could find at a convenience store and many of the caffeinated drinks popularized by Starbucks. Chestnut Hill Coffee, a local roaster, was introduced to both bars this year; however, Sci only has plain coffee and Kohlberg provides three exciting blends each day.  Sci sells Chinese food and sushi for lunch while Kohlberg has Indian samosas and curry.  Although some Swatties swear by Kohlberg’s Mexican and Indonesian blends or Sci’s chocolate covered espresso beans, most students, when choosing between the two bars, select based on convenience—proximity to classesas well as the environment in which they prefer to study.

Kohlberg mornings possess a cozy environment of students curling up in comfy chairs, scouring their essays for last minute mistakes. Articles on literary criticisms strewn across the marble tables and laptop screens littered with Chinese characters populate the room. Walk into Kohlberg at 8:30am and you will find a collection of Anthropology majors curled up in the large chairs doing their reading, eyes sliding back and forth over sections of reading they may have skimmed the night before.

“In the morning, I like the vibes in Kohlberg,” Socio/Anth major Morgin Goldberg ’19 claims, “the chairs are perfect for reading, and it’s nice and quiet.”

By contrast, if you walk into Sci commons during the morning, you are hit immediately with a rush of bustling people, calculators frequently cascading out of partially unzipped backpacks as students climb the stairs to their 8am labs.  Noise levels fluctuate but remain consistently above those in Kohlberg.  Students will often grab coffee before heading to Cornell to put finishing touches on labs or compare answers on problem sets.        

As morning classes end, the concentration of STEM in Sci dilutes, and as other majors flock to Cornell and the commons for the bright, plentiful study space, Kohlberg begins to empty out.  Moving into the late afternoon, Cornell’s population, along with Sci’s coffee bar customers begin to diversify in discipline, political theory articles drifting onto the tables previously covered exclusively with problem sets.  As 4:30pm, Kohlberg’s closing time, approaches, Sci transforms into a conglomerate of students engaged in a wide range of intellectual disciples. In line for a late afternoon snack, you can find one person tossing around triple integrals and another flipping through a reading on African linguistics.

While history books in Sci are not uncommon, problem sets in Kohlberg are a rarity. Most STEM majors who have all of their courses in one building exclusively use the Sci coffee bar. Biology major Abby Byrne ’17 sees no reason to go to Kohlberg.

“All my classes are here,” she proclaims.  “There are always people I know here—people to ask if I ever need help on a problem set.” CS major Michael Song ‘18 concurs with Byrne, asserting, “I never think about going to Kohlberg as an option because I am always in Sci.”

Biology major Julia Barbano ’19 grabs coffee in Kohlberg before Economics class but returns to Sci to begin homework.

“Econ is one of the two classes I have ever taken in Kohlberg,” Barbano confirms. “I would never go to that coffee bar if I wasn’t taking Econ.”   

Having a coffee bar in Sci Commons offers STEM majors the luxury of having class, food, a library, and a social common area in the same building.  If a Chemistry major has all their classes in Sci and decided to sleep in one of the chairs in the commons or the basement of Cornell, they could survive an entire semester without setting foot outside. While the floor-to-ceiling windows adorning the back side of Cornell send natural light streaming into the library, providing those bent obsessively over diagrams of carbolic acid with an array of greenery to observe during study breaks, there is an arboretum beckoning from the other side of that window. You can go for a walk. Experience a new building.  Try the blended coffee.

So, have you made a decision yet? Presented above are some general trends, but it ultimately comes down to personal preference. Will it be Kohlberg, or will it be Sci? Large, cozy chairs in a small, quiet, and dark room or small, uncomfortable chairs in a large, loud, and lightroom; Internationally blended coffee or chocolate covered espresso beans; STEM or social sciences?

As a freshman who splits class time evenly between Kohlberg and Sci, I find myself grappling with this question on a daily basis. Admittedly, with the points on my OneCard dissipating at an embarrassingly expedited rate, I will not have to debate for much longer. But until they are gone, I guess I’ll just alternate.

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