Stevenson Dining Hall Important to Oberlin Social Life


Abe Frato

Stevenson Dining Hall is a central location for students to eat meals and socialize.

Oberlin is a school full of kind and wonderful people. I still wave at a girl who walked me home from class two semesters ago and at a guy whose necklace I complimented over a year ago. There are even people I smile and wave at while not really remembering why — it’s just become a part of what we do. 

In my opinion, one of the nice parts of living on a small college campus is the experience of getting to run into people — both good friends and waving-acquaintances — most places you go. I find that, oftentimes, when I do run into people, it’s when one or both of us are preoccupied: walking down the street, hanging out before class, studying at the library, and so on. These interactions are usually rushed, keeping peripheral friendships in the periphery. Even if people did want to become better friends, social boundaries tend to prevent people from moving past acquaintanceships. 

Stevenson Dining Hall provides the ultimate solution to this problem, which is why I love it so much. When I told my friend that I was writing this article, she told me that nobody was more suited to write it because she didn’t think anybody loved Stevie as much as I do. I would tend to agree with her — I really do love Stevie to an almost unhealthy extent. Before joining the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association, I averaged about two hours a day in Stevie. I once read an entire book, from cover to cover, while sitting in the main dining area. I used to joke that I was going to make a Warhol-esque film called 24 Hours in Stevie by wearing a GoPro and recording my surroundings for a whole day. 

Given how often I am critiqued for my love of Stevie, I thought I should defend my point of view. I never crave the food at Stevie — I rarely dare to eat the meat there and have never once been brave enough to try the seafood bar. It is an objective truth that if your mother is at least a half-decent chef, Stevie food will never match up to the quality of her cooking. I think the main source of its bad reputation is that the food is not especially good. At the same time, it’s rarely as bad as people make it out to be, and I’d argue that the sandwich bar, cereal section, salad bar, and pizza and pasta sections are sources of consistently good food.

All of that being said, Stevie is the proverbial office water cooler of Oberlin — a place where almost everybody goes, providing a casual environment for people to have longer and better conversations with the people they exchange pleasantries with on a day-to-day basis. 

Being in the same place at the same time, just by coincidence, makes it appropriate to make dinner plans with somebody who you half-know and happen to run into at the salad bar. It’s even more productive for socializing when you invite someone to join your friends, or vice-versa: you join theirs. It’s how you can seize the opportunity to make friends with your friends’ friends and get to know different people. 

The layout of Stevie is particularly conducive to this. There are the smaller tables in the back, which work well if you are eating with just a few people. The larger tables provide a place for people to join and pass through, creating a flowing chain of friends, acquaintances, and friends of friends. Before I switched to OSCA dining, I would go to Stevie for breakfast in the morning and stay there until lunch, watching the group at my table change around me as people flowed in and out. The constant variety of people keeps Stevie interesting. 

Stevie is also different from other places where you may run into someone, like Wilder Hall, because meal times have the benefit of being naturally social. There isn’t an option to revert to doing homework in silence with someone or becoming trapped in the contents of your phone. Stevie’s size and the variety if offers means that it draws and fits  in more people than any other dining hall. So regardless of whether you’re reuniting your old friend group or meeting new people, it’s a great place to keep your community feeling strong. 

When I first came to Oberlin, one of the things that surprised me the most was the realization that the things I was used to doing with my family now had to be done exclusively with my friends. We had lived together, worked together, used the same showers (at different times), and were the only ones there to support and take care of one another. The biggest shift for me was eating every meal with friends, but it was mealtimes at Stevie that helped these friendships feel like a new family. 

While there are no Michelin-starred dining options on campus, my mealtimes have become much more about who I share my food and time with than the food on the plate in front of me. The opportunities I have to talk to and get more acquainted with the people I know continue to be a wonderful part of my routine. When I consider what makes that time work, it’s undeniable: there really is no better place than Stevenson Dining Hall.