March 1, 2020

JONES | Open Another Meal Swipes Dining Hall on Cornell’s Central Campus

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Eyes on the clock, notebook in hand, I quickly sprinted from my class in Kennedy Hall that had just ended to Okenshields Dining Hall. My next class began in 30 minutes, and I only had 15 minutes to eat a quick lunch.

Despite my hurriedness, by the time I got to Okenshields, it was too late. The line to swipe our ID cards to enter the dining hall was already long, and the line to get lunch was even longer. Refusing to waste time by getting a full lunch, I opted to eat a bowl of salad and a cookie — since there was no line for those choices. I left the dining hall a little less hungry, albeit not filled or satisfied.

The worst part though was that I felt I had no other choice. It’s no wonder why Okenshields is so crowded during the afternoon hours — it is the only dining hall on Central Campus that accepts meal swipes. As a resident of West Campus, I am required to purchase the Unlimited meal swipes plan; thus, I would feel as though I was wasting money if I do not eat at a dining hall that accepted meal swipes. I can only imagine that other students who have similar meal plans would feel the same.

Maybe having no other choice would be okay if the one choice available is good. However, Okenshields is far from perfect. Its food selection, in my opinion, is often inconsistent in quality and variety. Not to mention, despite being the only dining hall on Central, it is hardly central in location on Cornell’s campus. While reasonably close to the Engineering Quad, it is arguably closer to Hans Bethe House of West Campus than much of the Arts Quad, and it is quite distant from the Ag Quad.

From my own experiences and those of my friends, these problems have placed a huge emphasis on Big Red Bucks. Eateries like Terrace, Mac’s Café and my personal favorite, Trillium, are arguably more central in location than Okenshields and provide superior food choices. However, they only take BRBs and are similarly burdened with long lines during the afternoon hours. Further, the all-too-common scenario of running out of BRBs halfway through the semester is troubling because students must pay out of pocket or attend a meal swipes dining hall to eat lunch.

I have considered other dining halls that accept meal swipes for lunch. Risley Dining Hall is the closest dining hall on North Campus to my classes on Central and usually has short lines. However, I personally choose to not attend because of its sometimes limited and obscure food selection.

I have even felt tempted at times to eat at Hans Bethe on West Campus, which usually has no lines and is a five minute walk from Okenshields. However, those five minutes, while short, are painful – I refuse to walk down Libe Slope only to walk back up 20 minutes later.

These issues could be resolved by opening another dining hall on Central that accepts meal swipes. This would provide students another option for lunchtime meals, effectively mitigating long lines at other eateries and the campus dependence on BRBs. Cornell’s new North Campus Residence Expansion, due to be completed in 2022, includes building another dining hall on North Campus that accepts meal swipes. Why couldn’t Cornell do the same for a dining hall on Central?

Building another meal swipes dining hall on Central is long overdue, too. North Campus has three dining halls, plus one in the making, that accept meal swipes. West Campus has six dining halls that accept meal swipes, most of which were completed a relatively short decade ago. However, most of them suffer from the same problem of distant location, limiting their usage only to breakfast and dinner mealtimes. Because they aren’t feasible options for many students who want a quick lunch during the day, it’s ironic that so many of them even exist.

Another option would be to convert either Trillium or Terrace into a meal swipes dining hall, still providing students the luxuries of convenient location and tasty food yet reducing Cornell’s cost for building another dining hall. It seems that these eateries are ready to facilitate meal swipes, anyways. Both have large open areas with lots of seats for socializing and eating, and Trillium’s past late night hours are an indication that it can serve dinner even with meal swipes. This solution probably wouldn’t do much to mitigate long lines, but it’s better than nothing.

Students shouldn’t feel forced to attend Okenshields simply because it is the only choice. Students should attend because it is an iconic dining environment. Legends like Happy Dave, that I have been fortunate enough to develop a friendship with, and his hip music playlist are parts of Okenshields that can’t be found anywhere else at Cornell. Opening another meal swipes dining hall on Cornell would provide students more flexibility in their meal choices and uplift the University’s accomplished dining reputation.


Nile Jones is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Rivers of Consciousness runs every other Monday this semester.