“Stop! Drop! Bring BACK Your Mugs!”

On Oct. 25, an email was sent out on behalf of Bates College Student Government (BCSG), Campus Healthy Eating and Wellness Society (CHEWS), ECOReps and Dining, Conferences & Campus Events, informing students of the issue of missing Commons dishware, specifically the absence of mugs. A dish return event was held by BCSG at the entrance of Commons on Thursday, Oct. 27.

At the dish return, Sadie Kriegler ‘24 spoke with The Bates Student. During the interview, several students walked by and returned their mugs, then received animal crackers and an ‘I returned a mug!’ sticker.  

“As of right now, I think we’re at about like 102 [mugs, but] we still have about 30 minutes left of our little return session,” Kriegler, who serves as the secretary of BCSG said.  

At the end of the event, 157 mugs were returned, 24 of which were brought back by students who live in Milliken House, as reported by the student government representatives.

Why is there a sudden push to return mugs? 

Of the 16,000 mugs purchased by Commons last school year, only about 1000 are currently left in rotation. “We’re at a crisis point right now,” said Christine Schwartz, the associate vice president for Dining, Conferences and Campus Events. With supply chain issues and inflation in the costs of food, labor and transportation, Commons is unable to purchase replacements, putting the responsibility of returning mugs in the hands of students.

Schwartz and Cheryl Lacey, the director of Dining, Conferences and Campus Events, explained that when Commons doesn’t have enough dishware to make it through a meal, the dish staff  “are perpetually feeling behind. So there’s never a break in their day.” 

How long has mug theft been an issue?

Commons has been combating this problem for years. From 2006 to 2014 there was a program called “Take a Mug, Bring Back a Mug” in which students were permitted and encouraged to take mugs with lids from the dining hall. However, Schwartz said the program was “horrendous because people didn’t bring them back.”

What about the dishware returns around campus?

Students have expressed confusion about Commons’ messaging toward taking dishware and whether or not the drop-offs make taking dishes okay. “One-time last year I was walking out of Commons with one of my friends and she had a mug…she didn’t even realize that you weren’t allowed to take the mug out of Commons at the time,” Josh Sherman ‘25 said. 

“I sometimes take a mug from Commons. However, I live right outside of [a] Commons dishware drop off so whenever I’m done, I drop it [there],” Shelby Armor ‘24  said. Armor later expanded that she thinks having these drop-offs are a great way to solve the dishware problem.

Schwartz stated the bottom line is, “you’re really not supposed to take anything out of Commons.” She explained that there isn’t enough staff to support the dishware drop-offs, not to mention that most of the time people don’t use them. The current drop-offs are run by custodians who receive a free meal if they bring in a bag of mugs to Commons. Though she said that this agreement “has become an excuse [for students] not to bring things back.”

Why aren’t students returning their mugs?

“Because the mugs are most versatile. The mugs can be used for a drink. They can be used for dessert in a pinch. It can be used as a bowl for soup [and] ice cream … a mug is an incredible vessel,” Brendon Fitzgerald ‘23 said.

David Walker ‘24 added, “I also think a part of it is probably just general student body spite … [telling students,] ‘Don’t take the mugs. Don’t take the mugs. Don’t take the mugs.’ If someone’s gonna do like a ‘fuck society act of theft,’ the mugs are the first thing that come to their mind.”

At the dishware collection table, Kriegler commented, “No one seems to have a real positive attitude towards it. People … feel entitled towards their mugs … but we’re trying to change that attitude on campus.” 

She later added,  “if people don’t start assuming responsibility for the mugs that they take, I think that we might experience a Black Death and all the mugs might have to leave Commons.”

What effect does this have on the student body?

Bates has a unique dining plan that allows students to enter Commons as many times as they would like each day. Lacey and Schwartz explained that this is an important model for solving issues of food insecurity. Though, “that flexibility and freedom to come and go as many times as you want comes with responsibility,” Lacey stated. If Bates followed a traditional college dining plan where someone rings up each meal, Commons would lose less dishes. However, students would also lose the freedom to come and go from Commons at their leisure.

How do we solve this issue?

Walker suggested adding a Commons dishware check to the room checks as a possible solution.  “They could … bait and switch us and like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna take your alcohol, we’re gonna take your alcohol’ HAH, got your mug, and just take the mugs back in like one foul swoop.”

Solutions like amnesty drop-offs, barcodes on mugs to earn extra guest passes and dorm commons space searches have already been implemented across campus. However, campus dining staff concluded that a culture shift is the only way to solve this issue. “It has to be from the grassroots up. We have incentivized, we have gotten the stick out. We have begged…[students] have to say to each other: that’s unacceptable behavior,” Schwartz said.