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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Sharing is caring: Carleton salt & friendship initiative

Carls are known for their creativity, and the dining staff is no exception. Dining halls have been the backdrop of the latest student unification efforts on campus. Obviously, the Carleton administration is always looking for new ways for students to connect with each other. Most Carleton students recall taking part in the frisbee toss during their first day on campus. This symbolic opening to one’s Carleton career serves as an opportunity for students to make new connections by partaking in the tradition of picking up another student’s frisbee and returning it to them before graduation.

While well-intentioned, the results of this effort have been less than satisfactory. Now, several months into the school year, 12.4% of students have yet to return the frisbee they picked up in September. Note that this number is higher than the percentage of students who have consumed alcohol in the past month, though lower than the percentage who binge-drink regularly. Of the students who did return a frisbee, less than 5% had an interaction that resulted in friendship or any further interaction whatsoever, positive, negative or neutral.

Although many Carls were ready to accept their status as awkward, antisocial introverts, Carleton administrators were not ready to give up on these young people so easily. They instead masterminded a new friendship-oriented program, this one aiming to work more subtly behind the scenes to encourage social interaction without the pressure and complete failure that would occur if students found out.  For this new project, they chose to target a communal space every college student knows and loves: the dining hall.

The project works in conjunction with Carleton’s long-term strategic dining plan (see previous issue) by orchestrating the removal of salt and pepper shakers from the majority of tables and leaving them methodically interspersed so that there is one within line of sight at any given time (the system uses a similar methodology as the distribution of security call buttons placed throughout campus). BonApp continues to provide food that is acceptable but unexceptional and bland almost without failure, thus inspiring a strong desire for additional salt. In the past, students would simply reach for the salt shaker conveniently placed in front of them, season their meal to the desired level of saltiness and go on eating alone or within their insulated friend group. This new strategic salt dispersal, however, is designed to motivate students to reach out. Now, to enjoy a properly seasoned meal, students must branch out and make new connections — specifically, with whoever was smart enough to seat themselves by the salt to begin with.

Early results of this implementation have been mixed. Communication between tables has increased only marginally, as many students choose to suffer in solitude or simply snatch away salt from their classmates as opposed to engaging in a positive social interaction. Who can say whether any hope remains for these hopeless nerds?

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