You Are Where You Eat
Even on the busiest days in the old Commons, said Marty Laurita ’08, there’d often be empty seats.
Those chairs were unoccupied — but not unused, Laurita explained. They had a vital function as buffer zones between student groups at the table.
It was a turf thing. “Once we knit ourselves together with certain people, group space becomes a factor,” said Laurita, of Camden, Maine.
No casual observer of seating habits in the now-closed Memorial Commons, Laurita based his anthropology thesis on a perception study of student cliques and their table choices. He asked some 20 students to map the dining areas and where distinct groups habitually sat.
“Whether those groups actually exist isn’t the point,” he explained. “It’s the perception we’re looking for.”
While the thesis was still under way at press time, Laurita could share a few common perceptions. It was thought, for example, that athletes tended to sit next to the salad bar in the so-called Big Room — a room that, in fact, seemed to serve generally as a venue for social display.
“People there seemed to subscribe to the concept of status and hierarchy,” explained Laurita, himself a denizen of the Back Room. “So there are opposing ideas of what it is to be a Batesie. Does that identity call for being part of a hierarchy, or not?”
Given the demise of Memorial Commons, Laurita was proud to have captured this snapshot of a passing piece of College history. In a January interview, he was also glad he’d be around for the new dining hall’s “soft opening” during February break.
“Friends of mine are going to be here,” he said. “We’re going to go stake it out and see where we’re comfortable.”