In September 2019, faculty and staff got together to implement a new rule regarding the dining hall: each table has a maximum amount of students allotted to sit at it, and if the number exceeds the restriction, students will be asked to switch tables. The numbers were placed in a plastic holder on top of the table, but since then, most of them have been removed.
The motivation for this new restriction has been fuzzy at best. Even faculty members don’t know the complete rationale behind it. Some say it’s due to a survey sent out many years back (anonymously) about KO culture. According to art teacher Greg Scranton, the lunch room being a toxic place came up numerous times in the survey, and teachers wanted a way to fix it. According to English teacher Heidi Hojnicki, students were leaving too many messes behind, and the lunchroom staff or students on lunch duty would be required to pick it up. Form 5 Dean Ronald Garcia said that the reasoning behind this new rule is a mix of the two: to improve the cleanliness, and to create “more inclusive groups.”
In a survey sent out to the whole school, 86.7% of students said that they do not believe that the lunchroom is a toxic place. “I’ve never felt uncomfortable, unsafe, or left out in the cafeteria in my six years at KO,” junior Emma Henry said. Senior Alyssa Pilecki said she agrees with Emma that the dining hall is not an unwelcoming environment.. “You either just sit with your group of friends, or if not then people you know,” Alyssa said. “If not that, then you can sit by yourself, which I know a lot of people don’t like to do that because of the stigma and embarrassment that usually comes with it, but honestly I don’t mind eating by myself if I have to. I usually like talking to my friends and being with them, and lunch is usually where I do that, but if for some reason I can’t, then eating by myself is fine.”
However, Chair of the English Department Cathy Schieffelin said that the people who do seem to believe that the lunchroom isn’t toxic are the people who tend to have a big group of friends. Junior Christina Lu said that she understands why the lunchroom can be toxic for some. “The lunchroom doesn’t seem like a toxic place at first: people are eating, socializing, heating up nachos, but at the same time, it is the place where new kids don’t know where to sit or there aren’t enough seats to sit with people you know,” Christina said. She also admits that it is hard to eat alone. “It is kind of ironic because let’s say there are a group of kids who are super inclusive — they offer seats to everyone, converse with anyone — there is still no possible way for them to include everyone,” she said. “When someone can’t be included by an inclusive group, they have to eat lunch alone and in a way they feel even more excluded than ever. I know that lots of kids are scared of the lunchroom as they are scared of eating alone.” An anonymous source also admits that there is a lot of division by social cliques and that there is not enough room for everyone to sit, making it a toxic place.
Despite the differing opinions on the toxicity of the lunchroom, 100% of students in that same survey do not like the lunchroom requirement. Many students claim that it is causing more exclusion, which is the opposite of the intentions behind it. “Limiting the number of people that can sit at a table was intended to minimize exclusion at the lunch tables, but from what I’ve observed its causing friend groups to have to separate and leading to more exclusion,” Emma said.
Junior Chris Morris said that he was kicked out of his seat by a teacher and does not like the new rule. “Friends and I have been moved because of it. Also, it sucks when you have more than seven or eight friends,” he said. Senior Jaden DiMauro said the biggest problem isn’t the rule itself: it’s the lack of communication about the rule and the reasoning behind it. “Not only is capping the number of students allowed to sit at a table a patently exclusionary action by the administration, but when students rightfully ask the teachers enforcing the rule for an explanation as to why they are being asked to move, the teachers are unable to provide any explanation,” Jaden said. “If the administration expects students to follow a rule, then they should be able to clearly outline why the rule is pertinent.”
60% of people said that they have been personally affected by the rule, and the other 40% admit to the rule not even being enforced in the first place. Ms. Hojnicki said that not all teachers enforce it, but she tries to. Mr. Garcia said that it is the responsibility of the teacher who has lunch duty to enforce it. Mr. Garcia said he has not gotten any feedback from students, but many students have been talking about the new restrictions and how to make them better.
“The way our lunchroom is set up, there is no way for everyone to be included,” Christina said. “The faculty think that the Middle Schoolers have an easier time at lunch socially by using the long tables that are connected to each other, but they apparently don’t think that high schoolers could suffer from the same social anxieties? They have set up the tables scattered everywhere and expect that 11 people per table was the way to go. I don’t really understand this logic.”
Overall, more of the longer lunch tables was a common response among students when asked what can be done to make the lunchroom more inclusive.Assuming the rules are followed to a “T” only 174 students would be able to sit at the cafeteria at any given time. The circle tables are only allowed to have seven students each, and there are eight of them. Rectangle tables can only hold eight and there are 11 tables. There are also two countertop spaces, which can hold 30 people total. Assuming the faculty and middle schoolers are eating at the same time, that doesn’t leave enough room for the 500-some students to sit. The rules about lunch one and lunch two aren’t followed, so really up to 300 students can need seats at lunch. These rules will end up forcing people to eat outside the room, or not eat lunch at all.
Freshman Jacob Joseph said that it’s not up to the administration to make the lunchroom more inclusive. “People just need to be more inviting,” he said. A common response among students and faculty was that there needs to be clearer communication between both divisions. Students claim that faculty need to be more clear as to what the rules are and why they are put in place, and students need to express their opinions and ideas more.
KO is seen as an inclusive place by most, and that inclusivity needs to continue on into the dining hall. Students agree that these new rules and regulations are not the way to do it.