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Keep Etta’s Cafe open or provide more options

Several days ago, Washington University announced it would close Etta’s Cafe in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts in order “to focus on education and the quality of the programs we offer students.” Last time we checked, you can’t eat an education. By doing this, the University has essentially prioritized an amorphous ideal over supporting its students’ continued existence. Our editorial board realizes that this may sound a tad melodramatic, but when the only additional options the University proposes—Grounds for Change in Hillman Hall and Holmes Lounge in Ridgley Hall—close at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively, this change signifies that feeding Sam Fox students is clearly not a priority.

The email from Bobbe Winters, the associate dean of finance, to Sam Fox students cited declining patronage as the reason behind closing Etta’s doors. If the cafe doesn’t meet a certain threshold, the Sam Fox School needs to make up the deficit. Beyond our editorial board finding it difficult to believe a University with a $6.4 billion endowment is pleading broke, compensating for losing another food source cannot only be looked at from a proximity perspective.

First, as already mentioned, the proposed alternatives do not carry the same hours that Etta’s does right now. The cafe, which stays open until 5:45 p.m. four days a week, provides students a way to get an early dinner should they know a late night in studio lies ahead. Grabbing a snack before hammering out some work may be the only way for some of these students to get through the “quality of the programs” that the Sam Fox School clearly takes a great deal of pride in. And given the time-intensive nature of a Sam Fox course load, the distance to the next closest food station open after 3 p.m.—the Danforth University Center—becomes a barrier, especially in consideration of the fact that Whispers Cafe in Olin Library is not due to open until spring 2018, assuming there are no further construction delays.

The argument that Kayak’s Cafe’s proximity to the art school makes it a viable option seems plausible at first; however, given the University’s attempt to become more accessible to low-income students, requiring students to spend disposable income—whether in the form of personal funds or Bear Bucks that they may not have—seems hypocritical.

Also, speaking plainly, why shouldn’t the Sam Fox School be required to support the cafe as well as the educational programs? Every other school on campus has their own eatery, why can’t a cafe be a required provision built into the school’s budget? Students do not magically sustain themselves on their hopes and dreams of getting a degree, and the obligation to sustain those students, at least in part, falls on the University.

Following the initial email sent out to explain Etta’s closing, student outrage in response prompted a second email, espousing regret for not discussing the change more with students and delaying a final decision for another week. While it is commendable that the Sam Fox School has listened to students’ reactions and isn’t bullying the initial plan through, the fact that the matter is still undecided is worrisome.

Wash. U., while nominally an educational institution, is also home to the students it chooses to admit. Wash. U. is not a commuter school, and it is not just a means to a degree. It has, and will continue to be, a holistic student experience predicated on students living and thriving in the immediate St. Louis community. Feeding these students is a necessary component for them to both live and thrive, and closing Etta’s closes so many other doors to Sam Fox students’ success on Wash. U.’s campus.