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Today, I am writing about plates. It seems almost comical that this is the subject of my post, but since pilfered dishes have been a major topic of discussion throughout campus lately, I’d like to bring up an aspect of this issue that has not received much attention.

We’ve talked about the extremely high cost of replacing dishes, the hundreds and thousands of missing plates, and the efforts undertaken by Community Council, Student Government, and the administration to resolve the problem. But there has been less discussion about what this situation says about our students. I believe it’s not a plate problem, but an issue of privilege.

It is one thing for students to be unconcerned about costs, but it’s quite a different matter to be unconcerned about people—and the message that this behavior sends is, “This is really convenient for me, and I don’t care who has to deal with it. I don’t care if other people have to clean up after me.”

We are approaching a holiday in which people in this country and around the world don’t have enough food to eat and are trying to find a warm place to live. Yet, here at Middlebury, we live in an incredibly privileged environment that is beautiful and pristine. I am sure that everyone among us is thankful for this environment. It takes a lot of hard work to create and maintain it—work that scores of staff members put in on our behalf every day.

They move through campus, mowing lawns, shoveling snow, keeping lights running, mopping floors, scrubbing toilets, and thinking about how to make our campus safe and clean. When they have to contend with ant infestations from food-caked dishes left in dorms, or with picking up dirty plates piled in bathrooms, or with hauling large boxes full of filthy dishes down flights of stairs, or with soaking and then hand scrubbing them, I imagine that they can’t help but feel undervalued—or worse, unseen. They are being forced to do work that is incredibly menial and unpleasant because of thoughtless behavior.

I would like to call students to action to think more critically about the human face behind the dish problem. Think about what it says about us as a community when these small acts of thoughtlessness create a collective problem that impacts all of us in a negative way. This thoughtlessness speaks volumes about what kind of people our students are going to be when they leave this institution.

As we pause with family and friends this Thanksgiving to reflect on the many blessings we enjoy, please take time to see—really see—the people here who make our campus a haven of calm and beauty. Perhaps, even, ask yourself how you can show your appreciation for their efforts.

41 Responses to “Plates and Privilege”

  1. Vincent Jones says:


    Carr Hall infiltration and Dish Raid

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is ludicrous. If I didn’t have other things to occupy my “thoughtless” mind with I’d point out exactly what your improper and unjust assumptions are- about the people and the practices regarding the dishes. As a Dean, you should feel a responsibility to represent our community in a fair regard. Of course we don’t always make the best choices, do you?

  3. Gary Margolis says:

    Thanks for continuing to link what each of us does here to our greater, closer and distant worlds. That our daily actions can mean everything, to people we see and don’t see, and even to the invisible tectonic plates we sometimes feel.

    Gary Margolis ’67

  4. Student says:

    Anonymous, your admittance that we don’t always make the best choice rules the message of this post completely valid. I think the Dean makes an astute observation in stating the ease with which a just perspective on the world can be difficult to see from the privilege of this campus.

    To have a Dean who is willing to note the areas in which a college community can improve is both fulfilling her responsibilities and representing a college community in the best kind of light- a group of young people who, admittedly, don’t always make the best choices, but who believe strongly in self betterment and widening their perspective on the world through education, learning, and interaction with ALL people around them, not only the more academically elite.

    Mostly though, your comments on unjust assumptions about dishwashing practice simply suggests that you haven’t done as much dishwashing as the good people of our dining hall.

  5. another student says:

    I agree that the number of dishes that go missing from the dining hall is appalling, and that we as a student body need to realize how our actions trickle down and affect those around us. You and I both know that cleaning a day old salad bowl or dinner plate is a miserable experience and one that the staff should not have thrust upon them. However, if the issue is going to resolved I think it is necessary to understand why dishes go missing.
    As far as I can tell stealing dishes has always been a problem on campus. We as a community have very hectic lives. Between class, work and other duties we hold on campus days can get busy. Often meals and sleep are sacrificed. As much as we would all love to sit and eat our meals in the dining halls, overcrowding during peak periods and time constraints often prevent us from doing so. Why not allow-even encourage- students to bring their own containers to the dining halls? Plate theft would be less pervasive and the responsibility of cleaning their take away containers would fall on the student and not the staff. I have been told many times during my career as a student that taking food from the dining hall is against policy. I realize that food theft is an issue, but so are the bills that amount as a result of stolen dishes. Students taking breakfast, lunch or dinner to go is nothing new, why not facilitate the process by allowing students to bring their own containers?

  6. Jay Saper says:

    Thank you Dean Collado for a beautifully accurate yet entirely disturbing explanation of the plate crisis. I too agree that it is a much deeper issue truly about our extremely privileged position as spoiled students. I am incredibly grateful for the outstanding staff we have and it is a shame that we take inconsiderate action to degrade them.

    It would be wrong of me or anyone one else to push the blame solely to the students who remove dishes from the dining hall and that as why I have chosen to use inclusive language. I believe that all of us have the responsibility to step up and increase the dialogue about the implications of our actions. We should not criticize one another for our privileged lives for that leads to nothing. Rather, like you have done, we must seek to raise awareness about that privilege so that we can all understand how our actions may be adversely affecting others. Only when this happens do we have the possibility to correct ourselves to act more justly as fellow human beings.

    I commend you for publicly taking such a strong step towards this goal of awareness. I agree that if we head out in the world without ever having this privilege questioned we will continue to live lives destructive to others. I have a strong conviction that this is most certainly not what any of us want to do; therefore, I believe we should all be grateful for you to call this to our attention and we should all take action help ensure that the rest of the student body seriously understands the depth of what you have so well articulated.

  7. Rob LaMoy '12 says:

    I completely agree with you, Dean Collado. I’m not sure that appealing to people’s consciences is going to completely resolve this problem, however. Yes, failing to return dishes shows a lack of responsibility and suggests an abuse of privilege. This cannot be denied. But in addition to people leaving plates laying about because they are lazy and irresponsible, there is also the issue of people leaving plates in odd places because of forgetfulness and feeling rushed. (I’ve personally had to eat meals while walking to class on several occasions to make it on time, so I can relate.)

    As long as some students don’t feel like they have the time to bring plates back to the dining hall, plates are going to go missing. Is this morally excusable? Probably not. The case could be made: “Once you’re out of class, bring your plates back.” But this is not, and I don’t believe ever will be, the reality. We need a system to get ALL the plates back to the dining hall. Appealing to everyone’s moral goodness is only hitting the tip of the iceberg.

  8. Former Student says:

    I am in complete agreement with ‘Another Student’. Dish theft, while a legitimate concern of the administration, is not a ’cause’ but an ‘affect’ of other issues.

    To make ‘Another Student”s argument more readable, I will make a list of some of the root issues, as I see it, that cause the ‘dish theft’ problem.

    1. Overcrowding of the dining hall. Do we seriously have to wait 5-10 minutes for Ross pizza? (The answer is yes.) The wait time for the ‘main dish’ wait could be triple that, easily.

    2. The overcrowding issue is caused by (1) Closing Atwater Dining Hall while (2) accepting more students. Proctor’s “expansion” is not enough to accommodate the increased number of students in this campus.

    3. Because of the overcrowding, it might be difficult for a group of friends to sit together. So they might resort to eating outside of the dining hall. By pure laziness of the students themselves, they do not return the dishes. Of course this is an issue.

    4. Time Constraints cause ‘peak hours’. I have yet to hear of a student that enjoys waiting in line (Or a person for that matter). This is an issue caused by the buffet-style food service we have, dining staff unable to keep up with the demand, and hours of operation. The dining halls don’t serve food 24/7. For example, dinner is only served for 3 hours (4 for Proctor). Have three classes in a row in the afternoon? Looks like you’ll have to wait until dinner to eat lunch.

    5. The amount of work we had as students (I expect that it hasn’t changed). Some students have more work than others. Some of the students have ‘working’ meals in which they eat while studying for the next exam. They cannot be expected to study in the dining hall which is noisy and cramped.
    Some of these causes cannot be fixed while making serious changes to the way Middlebury is run.

    A major issue with this whole situation is the way the administration has discussed it.

    As I see it, there are two kinds of ‘dish thieves’

    First, there are the inconsiderate, ‘privileged’ students who steal the dishes, leave food on it and leave those dishes in the bathroom, as you mention in your post (The current administrative solution, which is to attempt to fine them, doesn’t work as it’s difficult to find out who was responsible for these dishes and probably won’t care if they are fined).

    Secondly, there are the people who live in a house/suite who use the dishes when they cook, and generally (though admittedly, not all of the time) take care of those dishes. Because of recent administration policy, the people who are living in a house/suite are being punished. (The teachers/staff in Carr Hall as Mr. Jones pointed out should be included in this category).

    The administration makes no difference with these two groups of people.
    As a recent graduate, I can assure you that when I lived in a house we made no attempt to make the custodian’s lives harder. After all, they helped clean the showers, and dining area. However, the benefits of keeping dishes in a house/suite were tremendous. We were able to bond over cooking, an experience that is largely ignored by the students of Middlebury (As all the food was given to us).

    I can however, offer some solutions.

    As ‘Another Student’ states “Why not allow-even encourage- students to bring their own containers to the dining halls?”

    This is a good idea. However, we cannot expect that the students will pay for this. After all, Middlebury is one of the most expensive colleges in the country. Instead, Middlebury should consider it an investment by giving the students a container and a mug (for coffee, tea, etc). Allow students to take food outside of the dining hall as long as the food is in these containers. Staff members might need to be placed outside of the dining halls to ensure that students adhere to this new policy.

    Secondly, the administration could equip houses/suites with dishes This will allow the houses/suites to continue the tradition of bonding, while putting the burden of cleaning the dishes on the students.

    -Former Student

  9. Reid Hansen, Brainerd CRA says:

    I agree with Dean Collado’s post and wanted to write about a few ideas we have discussed during staff meetings here in Brainerd.

    To try to cut the cost of replacing the dishes, dining halls could offer biodegradable food containers for students who want to carry out meals.

    To discourage people from grabbing a stack of the containers or abusing the system, they could be kept on hand where the staff serves food. Students who want to carry out food would ask for a container.

    While containers for the dining halls would add an expense to dining, the amount of money Middlebury could save by avoiding the disposal or loss of dishware could very well offset that cost.

    And, if this is a clear alternative for students who don’t want to eat in the usual dining hall, we could take a more firm zero-tolerance stance on dining hall dishes that leave the dining halls.

    We know this system is feasible because last fall the carry-out food system became part of our H1N1 response protocol, which required that friends of an isolated ill student deliver food in disposable plastic containers to their sick peer. If we replace this plasticware with biodegradable materials, we might have a relatively eco-friendly, price-savvy solution to the plates problem. This would certainly help our Res Life teams, and I imagine it could positively affect Custodial, Facilities, and Dining teams, as well.

  10. Emily Galindo says:

    I just wanted to thank Dean Collado for taking the time to touch upon this very important issue. Although it is your job to do such, it takes a great amount of courage to question an institution’s morals and not just blame its laziness. To Anonymous, I’m so disappointed to hear that you feel that way and to realize that there are people like you on my campus. As Student has pointed out, you are only proving that we must take time to question who we really are as a community.

    To Reid, you are always thinking. I think that you and my fellow Brainerds have come up with an amazing idea and I hope that Middlebury has the smarts to listen to what you all have to say.

    Again, thank you, Dean Collado

  11. Alison, 2010 Midd Grad says:

    Thank you for expressing issues and of privilege leading to a lack of responsibility. This is a problem that I felt strongly about my entire time at Middlebury, but was never able to express as eloquently as you did here. I hope that others come to realize that if we think about others a bit more, we can solve many problems.

  12. Vincent A. Jones IV says:

    Though its unfortunate that we’re in a position where this conversation is necessary, I’m happy that you, a college administrator are addressing this. I agree that your statement was very-well articulated.

    I think that discourse about privilege should be built into first-year orientation in an attempt to develop a culture of awareness. The CCSRE has a great interactive workshop that gets students talking.

    Without being too verbose, its important that students recognize that the ability to even remove food from the dining halls, let alone plates, is such a privilege. Its a privilege to have access cards that let us into almost every building. Its a privilege to have guests on campus without lots of regulations. We take paved roads for granted. I could go on forever.

    Its important that we make internal changes during trying times like the the recession that we’re coming out of. Instead of feeling entitled to remove plates of food because the lines are too long, going to the dining halls at non-peak hours is the most appropriate personal response. Though the endowment is very insulating, and students pay a lot to attend, it does not excuse us from our moral obligation to citizenship which entails respecting each other and all the components of our facilities.

    I hope that continued conversations help to change our student body from within.

  13. Melida Maldonado says:

    I totally agree with Dean Collado.

    I have seen dishes left in the most random of places (stair cases), and I cannot help but feel a sense of anger every time I do. I completely believe privilege plays major role in these actions. Some students come from an environment where they do as they please and have someone to pick up after their messes. However, some students do not comprehend that Middlebury does not employ personal maids. The job of custodial is to sanitize, not pick up after our dishes or the reckless messes students create on the weekends.

    Some students just do not understand that there is always someone who has to clean up after them. For example, I have seen people in the dining halls who drop food on the floor and ignore it. People drop and shatter plates and cups and continue walking as if nothing happened. I have also heard of certain teams which have the most inconsiderate initiation techniques. Newcomers fill up their plates with food, go to the dispose the dish (full of untouched food), and drop it just as they are to place it in the racks. Again, there seems to exist a lack of consideration for the staff member who has to deal with the mess.

    I am not against students borrowing dishes and taking care of them. However, I am against dishes left lying around the campus as if it were some sort of resort. I know this post was about dishes, but I truly wish everyone played their part on this campus and respect it as if it was their own home. Believe it or not, picking up the extra napkins from the floor can go a long way.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I find it sad college students need to be reminded/begged to put things where they belong and clean up after themselves.

    Dean Shirely thank you for making us students reflect on our actions. I think people simply do not take the time to think about how their actions affect other people. While people may have their reasons for taking dishes and then not returning them (personally I think there is no valid reason for not being able to walk to Ross at some point during the day or week to return a dish, when the dining hall is closed there is still a place for returning dishes, but I digress), that does not make it okay. By “conveniently” taking dishes to one’s room and “conveniently” placing them in the hallway, bathroom or any other place that is not the dining hall, that person inconveniences the entire student body and staff. That is disrespectful and selfish. I think Dean Shirely’s summarization of this attitude as “This is really convenient for me, and I don’t care who has to deal with it. I don’t care if other people have to clean up after me” is completely accurate. Of course that doesn’t reflect everyone’s attitude, but that is what the act of not returning dishes reflects.

    I feel like more posts that challenge us to think and reflect on how to address issues we often complain to our friends about, but never try to resolve or issues that we might not even notice. I really like the ideas for solutions, i.e. allowing students to use their own containers, and I think these types of posts have potential to make us a more aware and better community. I am glad to have you as a Dean. I appreciate your honesty.

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    Well said!

    I am reminded of something President Clinton said in his commencement address a few years back:

    “When we leave here today, somebody’s going to have to come in and fold up all these chairs and clean this place up, and a lot of people who do that work think no one ever sees them. They have to be involved in the fight against climate change too, or the fight against income and equality. They have to have chances in life. If there’s one thing I’ve learned traveling the world, it’s that intelligence and effort are equally distributed; organization, investment, and opportunity are not, and so too many people remain unseen.”

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