It is a frigid winter day. You take a step out into the quad. The sky is covered in gray, depressing clouds. The skin on your hands feels as if it is breaking to pieces when exposed to the dry wind. Even your coat can’t keep you from shaking. The last thing on your mind? If it is even possible to eat out there.
Many Clayton students face this reality. It is too cold in the quad many days. Tents? They can only do so much to keep you warm. But if you are hesitant about eating inside and cannot leave campus, the quad is the only place you can eat.
Those with access to a car or method of leaving campus often take advantage of this, driving to restaurants and homes where they feel more comfortable eating. But just under half of the student population has the luxury. So, how are the rest coping?
Some choose to bear the cold weather, bringing a coat and gloves. With these items, the weather is much more bearable. Jack Gustafson, a freshman has used this method to use the outdoor tables since the temperatures started dropping.
But not all students are willing to deal with the weather. “It’s frigid. If you go outside you see your breath,” said sophomore Grace Wolf.
Although the benefit of keeping your mask off for longer periods of time was appealing for sophomores Baylee Her and Lillian Cissna, the weather has forced them inside on several occasions. The students wish they could choose where to eat due to the dark, loud nature of the commons. Students in the commons commented on this. “I feel like I can hardly speak to my friend who’s sitting right across from me,” said junior Zoey Hall.
“They should open up another inside eating area or have smaller eating areas with a limited capacity. There is no way I’m going to [eat in the commons].
If it is snowing or raining out here, I’m just not going to eat then,” said senior Anette Martinson. Many students fear the spread of Covid-19 in the commons, worrying it would spread quickly in the large group of unmasked students.
If it is snowing or raining out here, I’m just not going to eat then.
— Anette Martinson
But, many students who eat in the commons do not stay there for long, scarfing down their meals and heading to the library or other academic spaces to work on homework or chat. Some who eat inside, even though they do not linger, still wish the tables could be spread further apart to make space so groups who do not regularly overlap remain separated.
The restrictions also work against students as they cannot eat until their lunch hour. “Sometimes it is a while if you get into school early and you have second lunch. So it’d be nice if you could have a snack throughout the day,” said sophomore Ceci Dupor.
Even the building staff has noticed the change in lunch locations “We didn’t have a whole lot of restrictions about where you could eat. A lot of times students would gather in the various alcoves and have lunch on the various floors.” said the building principal, Dr. Dan Gutchewsky. Many students wish we could go back to those times.
“[Now], it’s not realistic to sit 450 people in the commons. We can [sit] 300-350 fairly easily, but the 450 starts stretching us,” said Gutchewsky.
Students are not safe when forced inside by rain or other uncontrollable events.
It’s not realistic to sit 450 people in the commons. We can [sit] 300-350 fairly easily, but the 450 starts stretching us.
— Dr. Dan Gutchewsky
There are measures set to make lunch safer. The blue QR code that students are asked to scan when they sit down for lunch has not been as successful as hoped for. “It’s inconsistent at best,” said Guchewsky.
A glimmer of hope is our high vaccination rate. “Building-wide, we’ve got a vaccination rate, I would guesstimate [at] over 90%,” said Guchewsky. Even though students might not be following protocols as carefully as asked, the vaccination rate provides a buffer to protect students from the possibility of a large Covid-19 outbreak.
A solution will be needed, but students should not be expecting anything soon. “If we found that it seemed to be getting overly crowded and students weren’t utilizing the [outdoor] space anymore, we could certainly look at adding tables [indoors]. We’re continuing to monitor it,” Gutchewsky said.
Teachers’ classrooms are also a popular place to eat. Students seek sanctuary with teachers they trust, as this is not necessarily allowed under school policy. Simply removing these restrictions would ease many minds and allow transparency.
Students seem to be more concerned about this than the staff, as they are looking for more solutions. The quickest fix would be allowing students to eat in the entire building, reducing traffic in the cafeteria. Students could eat in classrooms, hallways, and of course in the commons and quad. These simple changes would not drastically increase the risk of COVID-19 exposure as the majority of the student population is vaccinated. Additionally, many of the groups who would be unmasked together gather indoors on weekends, unmasked. These people are comfortable and consenting to these risks. However, students will all be crossing their fingers for a solution before we freeze.