Samantha Ewing ’23 (She/Her), Perspectives Columnist and Senior Staff Writer
From nostalgia about the Union quesadillas to the seemingly never-ending wait for the new Qdoba location, our recent lack of dining options has dominated conversation amongst us as a student body. Several times a week, I hear my peers discussing our limited dining options on campus, many bonding over the mutual distaste for Commons as our main option. It seems that everyone has some grasp on the concept that led to this depletion: we lost a lot of dining service workers due to Davidson College’s vaccine mandate.
On one hand, I can agree with most of those who have expressed frustration about the issue of vaccine refusal. Several of my peers and professors have made comments to me directly about how they view the importance of getting the COVID-19 vaccination. Between the information found on the CDC Website and the full rather than emergency FDA approval of the Pfizer option, our reasons to believe in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine are stronger than ever. Especially with the delta variant, the pandemic continues to spread and is far from over.
However, I think it is crucial that we examine the issue from a lens beyond this new mandate being the sole reason for workers leaving. In an email sent to all Davidson students on August 26th, 2021, the school stated that “we will now require a vaccine of all students, faculty and staff.” With this mandate applying not just to Dining Services, but to all students, faculty, and staff, why haven’t we lost a larger portion of our professors and students to the same cause? Perhaps we should begin to think critically about what incentives the students and professors have to stay at Davidson that dining service employees do not.
I want to acknowledge that I am not a dining service employee and thus, I cannot write with a complete understanding of their perspective. However, I can address the situation with the knowledge that I do have: while interviewing Director of Dining Services, Pinky Varghese, for an article I wrote earlier this semester, I learned that there were 40 job openings to work at Union with only one applicant at the beginning of the semester. In contrast, Davidson has retained most of its student body with over 550 new students in the class of 2025. Likewise, we have not faced nearly as much strife with the retention of faculty and administrative staff, as surely we would have noticed the absence of our favorite professors and advisors.
This disparity begs the question: what sets the dining service workers’ positions apart? Before we continue to vent about our lack of dining options, we should reflect on and further investigate the possible reasons behind it. If we are going to complain about the unwillingness to get vaccinated, we should also ask ourselves why there might not have been enough incentive for workers to stay even with the mandate. Are dining service workers receiving the same communication about the vaccine and public health as we are as students? What are the wages for dining service workers, and are they enough for employees to live safely and feel valued? What privileges are offered to students that made getting the vaccination a feasible decision for over 98% of us that may not be extended to dining service employees?
Once again, as a student, I have limited knowledge about the dining service employee conditions. Maybe these questions are not particularly relevant to the current situation, but regardless, I think asking them is a good place to start. It’s alarming to me how quick we are to mourn the loss of quesadillas without considering the loss of community members who for one reason or another did not decide to stay. I hope we can all begin to challenge our views on issues with such a high emotional charge; it’s important going forward that we think critically to ensure we are considering perspectives outside of our own that would otherwise go unacknowledged.
Samantha Ewing (she/her) is an English major from Atlanta, Georgia. She can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.