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Mandatory Dining Would Not Solve Problems

Mandatory Dining Would Not Solve Problems

In a recent letter ["Dining Halls Should Be Mandatory for All," Sept. 9], Raajnish A. Chitaley '95, proposes mandatory attendance at dining halls. However, in doing so, he fails to consider the perspectives and needs of many students.

By forcing people to attend meals together and share in the collective experience of consuming "half-stale strawberry shortcake and warm soda," Chitaley believes that unity and character will magically appear in living groups. Eating together, while certainly a way of making people spend "quality time" with others, is hardly the only social activity that exists in living groups. Whatever happened to just hanging out with friends in a more affable environment, like rooms, hallways, and lounges? Whatever happened to events within your living group? Or just working on problem sets together? Chitaley argues that MIT's lack of dining halls is somehow related to students being accused of being "unsociable and narrow-minded." People who are currently antisocial or narrow-minded will hardly jump for joy at the prospect of eating with others. This proposal offers only the illusion of unity. An easy alternative is to go to people's rooms and talk to them, rather than forcing them to be with you. If, at that point, they tell you to go away, then they certainly won't be any more friendly when forced to be with you. Accept the fact that some people just want to be left alone and respect their right to live that way.

The mere idea of eliminating our choice to dine where we please, as Chitaley proposes, is frightening. One of the reasons I chose to live at East Campus was because there are adequate kitchens there. I ate ARA food only once last year. I cook every meal for myself and, in the process, eat better, healthier food and save myself a bundle. Many residents here share this sentiment. Others might have special dietary needs that ARA is incapable of properly handling. Still others just want to have a choice about what they want to eat on any given day. Why be forced into a limited selection of foods when you have plenty to choose from around Cambridge and Boston? Our right to choose the foods we eat should be respected.

Chitaley naively believes that ARA can only improve services if more students eat there. This is a backwards approach. If a worker is not doing his job, you don't give him a raise to make him work harder. You say, "Do a better job or you're out." When MIT renewed ARA's contract in 1991, the chair of the search committee [Director of Housing and Food Services Lawrence E. Maguire] said, "ARA now has incentive to respond to the market." ["ARA Wins Contract, Will Take Losses," June 3, 1991] Has it? Or has it changed Networks to "Hacker's Heaven" as it proposed? Or, more importantly, has the quality of the food improved? And have prices come down? When will MIT learn that ARA is hopelessly indifferent to the needs of the students? When ARA's contract expires at the end of the 1996-1997 school term, MIT should say good-bye to ARA. Eliminating students' choice to not support ARA's price gouging serves only ARA, not the students.

The heart of the matter is that there is simply no reason to implement mandatory meals. Ensuring unity within a living group is the responsibility of the living group, not MIT or ARA. After all, would you want MIT to tell you how to socialize? Plan hall events, meet the ghosts, anything other than putting down an iron fist. Forcing people to do something that you want them to do is not the solution.

Victor Y. Tsou '97