Table Choices in the Cafeteria: A Form of Exclusion

web_malachi_bontragerLast week I had a fascinating experience in the cafeteria. I sat with a group of my friends at a table that did not belong to us. We sat at the straight long tables, the ones where all the athletes sit. It was one of the more uncomfortable meal times that I have experienced in a while. As the meal progressed, I was struck by the serious polarity that we face while sitting in the cafeteria. We spend two or three meals there every day and rarely, if ever, does a Mennonite, non-athlete like me sit at the tables silently designated for the baseball, softball, basketball, soccer and volleyball players. The striking thing was that I was not even sitting with the athletes, I was sitting with the people who I normally sit with and I was still uncomfortable. I am perfectly content to sit at one of the round tables near the middle where I can always find a couple friends. When I come out of the line, I know exactly where to look and how to weigh my options to find a table that has people who I am closest to or who I find most interesting. Is this practice selfish? Certainly. Is it wrong? This question is a little bit more complicated.

Here at EMU, there has been a lot of talk about inclusion. Personally, I am all for inclusion. That is, until I think about how uncomfortable it is to walk through the invisible barrier that separates the round tables from the straight tables in the cafeteria. Although I have a lot of athletes on my hall and can hang out and have conversations, it does not happen as much as I wish it would. Besides acknowledging these guys in the hall or passing on the way to class, I do not have quality conversations that should be happening at a college that emphasizes community and togetherness.

Looking at the divide that occurs every day, I can see that I am not the only one who might feel this way. But what if there was a different way? What if, after I filled my plate, I would find the nearest empty spot and enjoy the adventure that comes with learning new stories? What is the point of knowing everyone’s name at a small school like this when we do not know anyone’s story? I do not know if I am bold enough to sit at a strange table, but if others were willing to join me, we could overcome this form of exclusion.

-Malachi Bontrager, Contributing Writer


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