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Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

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Empty Chairs and Empty Tables

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The pandemic has forced students to live off-campus at a scale never before seen.

I am one in this large group that has taken a mass exodus from Knox residential life, seeking lower rents and an atmosphere free of viral droplets.

In tandem with escaping Knox comes an escape from board fees. For many students, life without being tethered to the starchy shackles of the Hard Knox Café is an immense freedom. You recognize these people as the ones you’d spot in some sunless corner of the Oak Room, crying over a grilled chicken breast in the feeble attempt to rehydrate it. For this sector of the Knox population, there is no remorse in leaving the caf behind. Liberation has arrived. But for some off-campus students, there is a longing for the caf.

Already in my off-campus existence, this longing has manifested itself in many ways. Some days, it is a pang of grief after I have my last sip of morning coffee, knowing that an endless supply is not around the corner. Other days, it is a burning sorrow when I see my sink full of oat-smeared dishes, and no conveyor belt to whisk them away to be cleaned.

I know that I am saving a great deal of money for being off-board, and for that I am immensely grateful. But there is a priceless, idiosyncratic spectacle of the caf that cannot be replicated. In my off-campus kitchen, a potato is not something that I can find displayed with pride in a white bowl over sneeze guards. It is just a potato.

Maybe one of the most important parts of the caf is the physical space it provides. Within its walls adorned with generic food imagery, the many dramas, terrors, and joys of campus life get distilled and amplified. With a swipe of an ID, students are able to enter into a condensed, alternate reality where friends and enemies alike coexist amongst an endless supply of cranberry creme-flavored coffee.

With the return of on-campus students, it is clear that things will be different for everyone this year, not just those off board.

Instead of swiping into a surreal oasis of hash browns to the tune of 105.3 KFM, students are currently being huddled (six-feet apart) in an endless line, awaiting plastic-wrapped rations to be consumed quickly and alone.

On one of these days, my vegetarian on-campus friend received a “mushroom loaf.” Instead of eating it, they gave it to me (living off-campus has taught me to appreciate food donations of all formats). Upon receiving their loaf segment, I can see why they didn’t want it. It looked more like a massive owl pellet than something edible.

But, in the spirit of not wasting food, I reheated it. Upon tasting, I realized that I underestimated the power of this faux-meat loaf. It wasn’t enough to completely transport me back to the Hard Knox Café, but one humble bite of this brown mass of mushrooms did more than just nourish me. It reminded me of what students have lost through the pandemic.

The caf is an essential thoroughfare for students and a part of campus that first-years and seniors alike learn to cherish. For now, this relationship will be put on hold. But the spirit of the caf will persist. A day will arrive when students can fully return to the hallowed halls of the Hard Knox Café, and debate, banter, and hug amid bowls of cereal and beer cheese soup.

Even though I will be watching from afar when this day comes, I can almost taste how sweet that day will be.

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