SEBASTIAN SOLA-SOLE ‘21 (HE/HIM), EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS
Full disclosure: I’m a Summit barista, I co-wrote last week’s news article about this event, and work(ed) for the newspaper. Are those conflicting interests? Maybe. But, the Davidsonian’s wonderful advisor and stalwart journalist Dr. Cynthia Lewis explained in a lengthy email conversation, so long as I come clean about my positionality, we’re all cool. Ethical integrity intact. Conflicts avoided.
As you may know, after eight years on campus, Summit is vacating its space on Patterson Court. The school is re-adopting the café, washing the mint accents red, rebalancing all of the rickety tables and stools, and finally conducting a thorough clean.
Since the news of Summit’s departure broke, I’ve been toiling with the question of what the space might look like next year. And with so many rumors flying around — amid all of the anger and frustration and politics and social media grandstanding — it’s clear most everyone else has the same question. From all the messaging we’ve received, it seems the café’s material character will go relatively unchanged through this transition. We know that the coffee and beer will stay, the furnishings will remain mostly the same, and all of your favorite, overly exuberant non-senior baristas will (hopefully) stick around. But, despite the college’s Steve-Bushemi-on-30-Rock-esque assurances that space will remain “the coolest spot on campus to relax” and catch vibes, I can’t help but feel the cold creeping in.
On the surface, and to ninety-ish percent of the student body, the café will look and feel exactly the same. But to the rest of us — to those who haven’t surrendered a booth since the first week of their first year, catch the sweats if they go a day without a Last Straw, or spend so much time at the picnic tables drinking bad (but cheap) beer that you could cast a perfect plaster mold of their butts from the depression left on the bench — this transition means the loss of some of our community’s soul.
Take it from the Davidsonian’s Perspectives section; right now, many of us students feel like no one’s listening. Since returning to campus last August, our agency and administrative transparency have waned collectively, and each successive decision and communication feels more compensatory, out of touch, and confused than the last. I know the decision to transfer control over the Outpost to have been perfectly mutual between the college and Summit Coffee. But nonetheless, I feel like an onlooker, instead of a participant, in the fate of my community.
That redbrick building beside the sprawling magnolia tree semi-encircled by picnic tables is the campus spot where I feel the freest; it’s where I can taste regular interaction without having to fill out a survey, scan an identification card, or stand on a red dot two arm’s-length from the people I’m with. For this piece and one from last week, I ran a dozen interviews with students, baristas, and Summit executives. And despite their range of opinion and position, every interviewee, in one way or another, gave the same answer when asked what they think will be lost in the regime change: our independence.
The decision was made in a narrow lane between two groups of people who don’t understand the particular kind of isolation we feel as students. In any other year, social contact at Davidson is right at the end of your fingertips. This year, though, it’s been regulated out of reach. To me, Nummit is one of only a few surviving relics of old Davidson, as well as a safe, reliable source of social normalcy. The value Nummit brings to campus — those ‘intangibles’ the decision makers couldn’t understand until we flooded their Twitter feeds with disheartened goodbyes — can’t be tabulated on a balance sheet or secured by a statement of intent in a press release. But, given the right leadership and a healthy amount of administration-badgering, our niche really can go on unchanged.
This semester, Summit handed operational control of the café to its student employees. Sure, the company is still involved, but the student-managers hold the reins and drive the chariot themselves. And that’s the ideal that sits at Nummit’s core. As far as I can see, the experiment was a resounding success and with each passing week that result grows clearer. More and more of us show out every Friday to soak in the last moments of the semester, drink in communion, and prove the importance of this particular gap in the administration’s reach.
Auxiliary and Dining Services are actively soliciting opinions and advice on the form ‘the Outpost’ should take next semester. But the model for a successful cafe already exists and it’s run by us. This occasion brings with it the opportunity to reclaim some agency and reassert the importance of independent student leadership on campus. Sure, all of this might be a little bleeding heart, but this year has testified to the importance of a space like Nummit. To us baristas and a whole bunch of patrons, our time and experience at Nummit play a huge part in the way we conceive of community. In ex-barista and Summit Brand Manager Olivia Stanley’s ‘20 words, “thank you Nummit for the house that gave us a home.”
*Credit to Joe DeMartin ‘21 for his words and thanks to the Nummitonians who interviewed with me.
Sebastian Sola-Sole is an Art History major from Bethesda, Maryland and can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.