On Commons and Mental Health


Sarah McCarthy

Being back at Bates after a semester abroad brings up many things to re-adjust to, classes that actually require hard work, friends you have not seen for a year or so, but most prominently the readjustment to Commons. Whether it be Brad’s Eggs or Vegan Pad Thai, being away from Bates for even just the summer is sure to have left you desiring your favorite Commons dish and hoping it pops up early in the cycle this school year. While having only one dining hall at school has many advantages, being thrust back into the atmosphere has many consequences for mental health.

The idea of a single dining hall at a college branded for being small and inclusive, seems to set up the ideal random meetings of strangers who end up becoming life-long friends. However, does this happen in practice? Throughout my career at Bates thus far, I have personally never sat down at a table where I did not know anyone, and only twice has a stranger or group of strangers sat down with me. Understandably, at a high-demand school like Bates, meals can be a large part of the socializing and catching up you do with your pre-established friends, but even still Commons can be a source of anxiety or general uneasiness.

The influx of people at noon lunch can be enough to make anyone feel claustrophobic. Weaving in and out of lines, trying to find a table or figure out where your friends are sitting can provoke certain fears we may not have even recognized before. After finding your friends, and hopefully a table, you head up to get your lunch. Trying to grab a bowl without accidentally bumping into someone or running your hand along an area it should avoid, you are suddenly conscious of every step you take. Not to mention the possibility of running into an old classmate, friend, or partner you were really hoping to avoid.

Apart from the herds of people, familiar or not, finding the right place to sit in commons can also be nerve-wracking. Venturing onto the tile can mean scrutiny from anyone walking in or up to get food. Not to mention — isn’t the tile reserved for athletes? The fishbowl may offer some solace to the general white noise of Commons, but the proximity of the tables inside allows all other diners to hear the conversations being had at your table. Or, what if you are like me and just like to eat a meal alone? What do other people think of you? Is it okay to enjoy alone time?

Finally, we get to the actual meal. Is it embarrassing to eat certain foods if your body looks a certain way? What if your Commons crush or someone you would rather not see is in line for the food you want, do you circle around and pretend to look for something else until they clear out? What will happen if someone else takes your omelet by mistake but you can’t just eat theirs because of dietary restrictions?

So, next time you are in commons, think about some of these things and how we can work as a community to alleviate some of the inherent anxieties that arise when entering Commons. Sit down at a table with people you have never met before. Say hi to that person you wanted to avoid. Look for a table in the opposite location of where you usually sit. Most importantly, enjoy all of the great, local food options Commons has to offer.