Serving Up Kindness: Cafeteria Style

In my short time at Austin College, I have had the great pleasure of interacting with and becoming familiar with our cafeteria staff. Each member of the staff is friendly, amicable and dedicated to showing kindness to every student — so shouldn’t we do the same?
Unfortunately, I have seen a few negative interactions between students and cafeteria workers; students sometimes choose not to show the respect that we are well known for here at Austin College. Too many times, I’ve seen cafeteria workers try to ask students what they would like to eat, only to be ignored or rudely told “tater tots” by students that they were expecting kindness from.
The people who work in the cafeteria take the time each day to make us breakfast, lunch, and dinner, putting care and detail into everything they do. Furthermore, if you spill something or drop something and you don’t clean it up — they have to. They are our caretakers, in every sense of the word.
It’s unfortunate that some of us continually choose to disrespect the people who so kindly offer their time and effort to us. Ultimately, it is a choice; negativity and disrespect are things you have to choose to practice — they take additional effort that simply being kind does not. For example, to actively ignore a cafeteria worker takes more energy than simply responding in a polite manner. So too, gruffly telling someone what you would like to eat is more taxing to you than just giving a smile and a quick comment. The effort it takes to be mean is significant, whereas the effort it takes to merely be nice is so much less!
A simple “how are you?” or “thank you” can go a long way. Starting a conversation is a nice way to begin or end a day — for everyone. Oftentimes, it seems as though some students do not treat the workers as equal, but rather as inferior. Perhaps this feeds into racism and classism.
The Austin College class of 2023 is the first ‘minority-majority’ class in Austin College history. Thus, the majority of students who frequent the cafeteria are white. Furthermore, race and class are directly correlated: most students who are eating at the cafeteria will be of the middle and upper classes. This posits an established hierarchy.
Note that most of the workers in the cafeteria are People of Color. As a biracial person myself, this was one of the first things I noticed: People of Color serving white people. I do have a bone to pick with the consistency with which I witness People of Color being undervalued or assigned subordinate positions in the service industries, and looking at the cafeteria itself, we clearly see an established a systemic power dynamic that we, as students, do not have to further feed into.
It is a human right to be treated as equal to your compatriots. Thus, when you treat the cafeteria workers poorly, not only are you feeding into a well-established system of racism and classism, but you are denying them their basic human rights. Why perpetuate a system that disenfranchises People of Color?
We, as young college students, have the chance to make the world a different place. We have a chance to prioritize kindness and to fight for the just treatment of those who care about us. The cafeteria staff clearly care about us, and so we should care about them. If not for the sake of human dignity, then because we are ‘Roos, and it’s our job to care.

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