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News Opinion & Editorial

Let Them Eat Cake

12:40. . .12:45. . .12:50. . . and the doors remained shut.

On Friday, the Columbus Academy stepped back in time over 200 years. In front of the dining hall, we witnessed the second coming of the French Revolution, one of the most violent and volatile periods in modern history. The sans-culottes roamed freely through the streets of Paris, raiding everything in their path. The price of bread was too damn high, so the people looted instead.

Freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors alike gathered first near the quad, but quickly swelled towards the cafeteria, with the Orange Chicken beckoning. Chants of “USA! USA!” filled the air, as time slowly drained from the lunch period. The crowd continued to grow in size and volume, until they were let loose. Bodies pinned against walls, stragglers left trampled on the pavement. General pandemonium ruled the day.

What unfortunate series of events could have led to this? How could such a routine affair suddenly spiral out of control and descend into a frenzied mob?

Like many disasters, this one started from almost nothing. With the annual admissions open house on the horizon, the school needed a refresher to present itself in the best light, and it’s perfectly reasonable to expect student participation in the clean-up effort. After all, most of the mess is our stuff, and it is our responsibility to tend to it. I’ve never encountered problems with open house preparation in the past, so the administration’s next move was a bit of a head-scratcher.

An email was sent to the Upper School with the following instructions:

 Lunch will be served tomorrow as soon as the hallways, lounges, locker cubbies, and all the nooks and crannies of the Upper School are clean.  If you have gotten used to keeping your books and jackets on the floor or in cubbies, PUT THEM IN YOUR LOCKERS OR PUT THEM IN YOUR BACKPACK TOMORROW MORNING or they might get swept away in the Great Cleanup that begins at 12:40 tomorrow.

 As far as I’m aware, this motion comes without precedent, at least in regards to open house preparation. It also strikes the students where we’re weakest: our stomachs. A 12:40 start is already a fairly late lunch period, so the last thing we want is to have lunch pushed back. Logically, using lunch as a motivational tool (or bargaining chip) seems like a good way to get the school cleaned quickly, with ample time for lunch, a situation where everyone walks away happy. And frankly, I’m not sure why it didn’t end up that way.

I’ve heard some students say that lunch was being held hostage, which, they argue, is borderline unethical. There have also been complaints about the fact that the email was sent out Thursday afternoon, so some students were not even aware of the situation until lunchtime. In the rush to clean up the school, unattended items were hoarded with abandon, even when names were clearly visible on them, and gathered in massive piles, leaving many frustrated with their items being misplaced.

I don’t think these complaints have a lot of merit. Students have access to email and lockers, and, thus, a responsibility to use them properly. A bit of common sense doesn’t hurt either. If I see an English binder with the name “Matt Davis” on it, I could try and find him, or even be a friend and put it in my own locker for him, rather than toss his binder in the pile of coats, books, and other paraphernalia and let him find it himself.

At the same time, I don’t think anyone had any business withholding lunch from students. It’s a fairly low blow, and when people get sideswiped in such a fashion, they tend not to react favorably. It’s the kind of move that you’d think would motivate us to hurry up and clean so we can get to lunch. Instead, it just makes us mad. And what does making someone mad accomplish?

Simple. It makes them MAD.

I believe the students here care about their school and want to present it favorably to others. This additional goading is unnecessary and counterproductive. That being said, it’s equally unhelpful to sit around and fume about the decision. Just deal with it.

Good intentions and misunderstandings turned what should have been a harmless request into a full-blown food riot. Next time a situation like this happens, I suggest we take a different course of action: Let them eat cake.

Written by Andy Li’13

Photograph by Andy Li’13


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