Opinion | Staff Editorials

The way we were

On Sunday, Columbia students learned of major changes being made to the on-campus dining scene. Starting in fall 2010, Ferris Booth and JJ’s Place will join John Jay as dining halls, accepting meals (or the Dining Dollar equivalent of a meal) upon entrance. Meals will be counted by the week, eliminating the end-of-semester race to the finish. Ferris Booth will be open all day, while JJ’s will only be open until midnight. Students will be able to use four meals, not two, on any given day. Additionally, “faculty meals” will be added to certain meal plans.

The original announcement last semester of some change of this sort was met with general discontent. However, the actual plan seems to be too complex to actually pass harsh judgment on before seeing how its specifics translate into practice. Those who use John Jay most, first-years, may actually benefit from the increased variety—but they will not, in fact, be able to tell, because they’ll never have known it any other way. If there is discontent toward this plan, it is due less to any one grievance than to the reality that, in its entirety, the proposed change marks a shift in Columbia tradition.

John Jay Dining Hall is hardly universally lauded. The limited hours are inconvenient, the quality of the food is generally something short of loved, and the number of meals required per semester is, even in the most limited form, daunting. Generations of first-years have been frustrated by the requisite visit to John Jay and only to John Jay. But every year, first-years bonded in that hallowed hall. They did so because they had to be there at certain times, and because there was nowhere else to go where they could get rid of meals. Lit Hum students could expect to run into their classmates during dinner hours, and more than one conversation about “The Iliad” took place over one of Wilma’s omelets. They rushed to eat all they could toward the end of the semester, competing with friends in “meals left” countdowns. And while students can still go to John Jay together, it will never be quite the same. The class of 2014 will be spread out over more than one dining hall and over more hours. They will not bond with one another over John Jay in the same way. Neither will they share the experience with upperclassmen and the decades of Columbians who have also dined in John Jay.

Sunday’s announcement also marked the end of the era of late-night JJ’s runs. JJ’s Place, formerly open until 4 a.m. and currently open until 2, has served, particularly for first-years, as the place to grab grub as the night winds down (or to prevent it from doing so) and as the hunger sets in. Beginning next semester, it will close at midnight. As with the future John Jay dining diaspora, this will loosen the ties that bind not only freshman to freshman, but nostalgic senior to eager first-year. Again, members of the class of 2014 will still go to JJ’s, but it won’t ever be quite the same.

Perhaps, more so than a shift from unlimited sushi in Ferris Booth or more than 30 convenience items at JJ’s, the projected plan signifies a break from how Columbian after Columbian has viewed his or her dining tradition. The first-years may be happy with the new plan—but then, they won’t know what everyone else is comparing it to.

Granted, the bigger unknown is faculty meals. What is that? (No, seriously.)

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