The COVID-19 pandemic forced many limitations upon our community. When we returned to school in fall 2020, we were masked and distanced, our schedules had been adjusted, and lunch locations were scattered across the school. First, we ate in advisories. Then, in the first semester of the 2021-22 school year, Forms V and VI ate in the dining hall while Forms III and IV ate outside in the quad. As the weather worsened, Forms III and IV moved inside to the Community Room. Many of us lost the sense of community that Haverford has always provided.
As COVID-19 limitations have been eased, community life has started to return to normal. We’re unmasked, Form III is back in Centennial Hall for assemblies, and, most importantly, we are all eating together in the dining hall. Our rejuvenated ability to come together as a community has been positive; however, it has also shed light on a problem. The dining hall lacks space.
That weird feeling, a distant memory, pales by comparison to the tight, limited space of the dining hall.
COVID-19 altered many people’s outlook on hygiene and sanitation. We started to consciously wash our hands for 20 seconds, we sanitized as we left rooms, and we became increasingly aware of the space between ourselves and others. When we moved out of our social distancing policies, one of the most consistent of which had been the “every other seat” rule in the auditoriums, I wondered whether I had previously sat so close to people in assemblies before. I became aware of people rubbing against my elbows on the armrests and I heard people breathing next to me. That weird feeling, a distant memory, pales by comparison to the tight, limited space of the dining hall.
On my first day eating in the dining hall since seventh grade, I had B lunch. Leaving Mr. Fifer’s Ancient World History class, I was excited to finally eat lunch without trekking from the cafeteria to the Community Room. That journey almost always involved a spilled drink or a dropped fork. I even anticipated the short lines and easy maneuverability that B lunch typically promised.
As I reached the doors to the dining hall, though, I was sorely disappointed. Before I had even reached the line, almost all of the tables were filled. I searched for my friends, finally finding a gap into which I could wedge between them. Then I needed to scan the room for a chair, which I thankfully located.
In the dining hall, it is almost impossible to maintain some level of distance.
This overcrowding is a pattern as we have returned to the dining hall. Chairs are scarce. There is little room to move, and we are so unaccustomed to physical nearness that it feels like there is no clean air to breathe. Although many of us are now comfortable with being unmasked at school, we often choose to keep our distance. In the dining hall, however, it is almost impossible to maintain some level of distance.
The lack of space in the dining hall goes beyond concerns regarding COVID-19.
The pandemic instigated a new sensibility in many of us who now have heightened awareness of personal space and hygiene, and the lack of space in the cafeteria—to move, to eat, and to simply breathe freely—is not conducive to this new way of the world.