When I prospied at Grinnell on the beautiful and fateful 20th of April two years ago, I went to have lunch with my mom. The “cheery checker” at the front door asked me to remove my jacket and bag before entering. Surprised, I looked to my mom; I have a severe seafood allergy that requires me to keep an epi-pen close at all times. She explained this to the checker. “Sorry, you can’t bring your bag inside,” was the response. A bit of a cold exchange with the checker was required before they permitted me to bring my small bag with my epi-pen inside the dining hall.

From my first day in the Grinnell dining hall, not as a student yet, I’ve had problems with its culture. The social pressure and seemingly illogical rules make spending time there unpalatable. There is constant pressure to be surrounded by friends at all times. Eating alone is the ultimate embarrassment- but it shouldn’t be! Alone time is essential and valuable. For those of us who are more introverted, the pressure to always be seen eating with a swarm of friends can be exhausting and anxiety-inducing. Basically, the dining hall fosters a hostile environment which, especially with the new Grinwell campaign, doesn’t seem to reflect Grinnell at all.

I am continually perplexed by the fact that I can’t bring a half-eaten piece of bread outside of the d-hall, but I can eat it on the inside of the glass door with the guard watching me, and I can throw it away. This not only promotes food waste, it creates a precedent for food policing. Students can take ice cream outside, but not lactose-free desserts. This policy does not take varying dietary needs into account. Additionally, it promotes unhealthy or disordered eating habits. As someone without an eating disorder, but with an anxiety disorder, being in the Grinnell dining hall translates my general anxiety to anxiety around food. Food policing is never good, especially in a college environment where many people struggle with anxiety and food disorders. The abundance of rules formulated to support commercial goals, which promote a culture of distrust around students as consumers, shifts the dining experience from a time meant for fulfillment to an anxiety-inducing arena.

I view food as a way to connect with people. Mealtimes are for self-care and nourishment. When there are so many rules that seem to be practiced out of distrust and in favor of corporate goals, it makes mealtimes at Grinnell stressful, not enjoyable. I personally take issue with rules that are in place simply for the sake of being in place. For example, it makes no financial difference to the dining hall whether I finish eating my garlic bread while I’m grabbing my backpack outside, or if I eat it with the “cheery checker” watching me while still inside the dining hall. I find it ironic that the dining hall claims to be conscious of food waste, yet would rather a student throw out a piece of bread than consume it outside of the premises. Once I saw someone near the exit frantically eating ice cream sandwiched between two cookies. Ice cream was falling all over the place. The guard stood nearby watching, saying, “you can’t take ice cream out unless it’s on a cone!” This was entertaining for me to witness, but also endlessly frustrating. Where is the logic? This is not an issue of the dining staff members that enforce the rules, but of whoever decides the policies.

I think the root of this problem is the corporate structure of Grinnell Dining. Are they really so concerned with saving every penny for the dining service that they distrust students and guests? Can they really afford a new $4,000 hot dog roller, but not more extensive vegan options or more humanely raised meat products? Doesn’t it go directly against Grinnell’s principles of self-governance to force students to remove jackets before entering for fear of food theft? Who is making these rules? Why don’t we, as students who pay copious amounts of money for this service, have a say in making these policies? There is clearly a disconnect between what student voices are saying and the Grinnell Dining decision-making. It almost feels like an entirely different place from the rest of campus. The rules of Grinnell College don’t apply. The values of Grinnell College don’t apply.

The JRC was built as a central link of the campus. It embodies one of my favorite parts about mealtimes, which is feeling like a part of Grinnell’s community. If the d-hall fosters an environment where community members don’t feel safe, can we really feel like we belong? I suggest they stop enforcing rules for the purpose of demonstrating authority and saving pennies, and strive to create a more inclusive and accessible dining hall environment that reflects our values and allows students to simply enjoy food.


  1. Y’know, I actually never felt that issue as an old student with my own anxiety issues. It might have changed within the last few years maybe? But in my four years, the side dining and booths made just eating on your own luxurious. Like I had my own little section of DND. Like “Cool, I’m done with x, I just want to eat for like 10 minutes and gtfo”

    Plus, all the other ways around the D-Hall. I never had an issue wearing a zippered hoodie or a small bag if it was like a handbag and at my hip.

    I think it varies on CC firstly, and secondly on how you make the D-Hall,

    but probably things have changed and that’s awful.

  2. Suck it up. 1) put the epipen in a pocket or just carry it 2) maybe you felt the pressure but not a lot of other people did. 3) take your sap stories someone else. Grinnell is a great school and does a lot for people. You should’ve transferred if you really felt that way.

  3. Only losers are worried about sitting by themselves. And they don’t allow backpacks in bc things get knocked over and spilled and stolen. Put your epipen in your sock or pocket and have some self confidence. Grinnell d hall is understaffed so why don’t you post up behind the pasta bar and quit hiding out in a booth. No one cares who you’re sitting with.

  4. I just graduated this May and I want to say that there is no shame in eating alone. At breakfast I would sit in the main area and at lunch and dinner I could happily sit at a date table or in a booth all by myself. You are making way too big a deal out of the stares. Please don’t worry about what others think! If you really do worry, get a to go box and eat in the grill, at a table in noyce, a lounge or in your dorm room.

  5. While I agree there are problems with some of Grinnell Dining’s more arbitrary, irrational, or profiteering rules, I have to say that the “no bags allowed” policy makes sense.
    Some people practice self gov, sure, but some people don’t. Also, as a bunch of broke, hungry college students, some of us seem to make an exception in self gov for food. (I know when I leave canola oil in the cupboard or eggs in a dorm fridge, they tend to disappear much faster than I use them…)
    People can and do sneak out food regularly from the dining hall. It might seem justified to you, particularly since we’re forced onto the meal plans and they aren’t cheap. However, as a D-hall worker it would suck to be restocking desserts and find people are carrying out whole pies (this has happened), or walking out with loaves of bread and bags of bagels (this has also happened, repeatedly). It causes a lot more work for staff/student workers, and it is theft.
    As another student pointed out, we’re allowed to bring in small bags, and people can use these to carry in epi pens…or sneak out a few cookies. Banning backpacks just cuts down on the larger thefts, and I for one have never felt like this makes my dining experience somehow more stressful or bad.

  6. I completely agree that the policing is completely against self gov. Also things like having to take your p card out of your wallet before scanning it because we might be trying to steal someone else’s meals. Some trust please? Also, my friends and I stole WAY more food as a game to try and trick the CC than I ever would have if that rule didn’t exist.

    Actually at breakfast I once put a muffin in a hot cup with a lid so I could put it in my backpack and save it for later, and the woman actually DEMANDED to see inside the cup for proof that it was just one muffin, and then still yelled at me because “that’s not what the cups are for”

  7. If you don’t agree with the article, fine. Post a logical and courteous response. You don’t know how what you post here might affect other people. It’s irresponsible and cowardly to hate, bully, and mock while hiding behind anonymity. You’re all adults, so act like it. You’re too old to be scolded for such childish behavior. Thank you to everyone who has provided constructive criticism. Personally, I agree that there is a severe discord between policies of self gov and actual reality, especially within the d hall, which seems to exist separated from the rest of Grinnell. Please don’t listen to these people. Your article had some excellent points. Not everyone will share those opinions, but don’t let it get you down.

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