Dining halls shape your college experience. Not only does it provide you with the food you need to sustain your daily routine, it also serves as a social space where students can relax, hang out together, or meet new faces they have never seen on a daily basis. With this importance in mind, we can see how Sharples, as the only dining hall at Swarthmore, influences the social dynamic within our institution. Therefore, when Swarthmore announced its plan on November 28 to construct a new dining hall and convert Sharples into a student union, everyone should supposedly feel delighted. Finally, we will have better food. Finally, we need not rush to Sharples right after our last morning class. Finally, we can linger at our dining table as much as we want because our new dining hall is large enough for every student. This article argues that these dining hall improvements are unlikely to happen if Swarthmore pursues its current construction plan. Therefore, Swarthmore should situate the student union inside the new building and renovate Sharples instead.
To begin with, let’s examine the two arguments in support of building a new dining hall: Sharples is overcrowded because it supports only 900 students, and it does not support individualized cooking. Both arguments may not necessarily be the case. Indeed, it is true that the number of Swarthmore students exceeds the maximum capacity of Sharples. However, not all students dine at the same time. Consider two students, the first’s morning class ends at 11:10AM on Tuesday, and the second’s morning class ends at 12:35PM. Even if both students usually have lunch, they will rarely have lunch at the same time because of their schedule. Moreover, Swarthmore has many dining options aside from Sharples: Indian and Chinese food ordered from off campus providers in Kohlberg and the Science Center, and some grab-and-go food both at Sharples and beside SCI199. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that Sharples has to serve lunch to 1500 students simultaneously. Because Sharples is less crowded during breakfast and dinner, the same reasonings still hold. From my experience, even when Sharples becomes extremely crowded, the maximum time I spend waiting on the line is less than ten minutes and I never have trouble finding a place to sit. Therefore, simply because the new dining hall would serve more students does not sufficiently justify its construction. The congestion is not as severe as it is portrayed.
Moving on the second argument: Sharples does not support individualized cooking. This argument is true for current Sharples; offering an individualized cooking in a dining hall where students occasionally have to spend ten minutes to get food is impractical. However, if Swarthmore wishes to offer individualized cooking, the College can simply renovate Sharples, for instance, by relocating some of the tables more closely with one another. There are many unoccupied spaces that can potentially be renovated to create an individualized cooking space. Even if this individualized cooking space may not be as spacious as those at our peer institution, it can still be created.
With the idea that Sharples’ condition is not as severe as people usually claim established, this article will argue that the geography of current Sharples makes it difficult to have any broad space necessary for a student union. As of now, Sharples has the two floors: the upper floor has two meeting rooms, whereas the first floor serves food and provides tables for its guests. Recognize that both the meeting rooms upstairs are relatively small in comparison to other areas inside Sharples. Therefore, if Swarthmore proceeds with its proposed plan, the first floor at current Sharples will be the heart of the new student center. What does this mean? The two rooms (salad bar and Room 004) on the first floor are so disconnected from other sections that they will hardly be of any use. For such sections as the food service and the quieter dining room, they are not large enough for students to gather together. With these constraints of current Sharples, it can be concluded that Swarthmore must spend a significant amount of resource into re-organizing Sharples in order to construct a suitable space for a student union. Therefore, it is more reasonable to construct a new building as a space for student union.
Because Sharples is designed as a dining hall, it takes more resources to convert current Sharples into a student union than to renovate spaces inside the building. Congestion and individualized cooking may be some of the drawbacks Sharples has, but they do not create so many problems that a new dining hall must be built. In essence, Swarthmore students want two things: better food and more spaces for social gathering. These goals can be reached more efficiently if we utilize buildings in the ways they are originally designed: Sharples for food and a new building for a new student union.