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Why Many Students Avoid the Cafeteria

It creates an environment where students feel pressured to conform or face the consequences of social rejection.
Nathaniel Seaman
The cafeteria is often notably empty

In the realm of teenage life, cafeterias have often been portrayed as the epicenter of adolescent experiences. These bustling spaces have captivated our imagination with their vibrant energy, forming the backdrop for all sorts of teenage dramas. Whether in movies like High School Musical or Mean Girls, many films include those iconic scenes: students seated at designated tables, belonging to their respective cliques, each occupying their rightful place in the social hierarchy. 

But it is critical to delve into the realities that exist beyond the silver screen, where the cafeteria dynamic is not always a mirror image of these fictionalized portrayals: in fact, it can be quite the opposite. Contrary to what the movies would have one believe, students at B-CC often find themselves shying away from the cafeteria, seeking alternative spaces in which to spend their lunch break. 

The reason behind this unspoken avoidance depends on each student, but many argue it is because of the lack of chairs and what they perceive as an uninviting atmosphere. Sophomore Sara Tollison said, “I feel like there should be a place to sit down if I was going to go there to eat, but instead it feels unwelcoming.”

Some say they prefer quieter environments, where they can relax and recharge during their lunch break. “The hallways have more space, options, and privacy, in comparison to the cafeteria,” said sophomore Avital Baer. 

Others go beyond the school walls, taking advantage of open lunch. Sophomore Sasha Ingber said, “I normally go out two to three times a week. I like going out when [the weather] is nice.” 

Then there are those who choose to utilize their lunch breaks for other activities such as extracurriculars, clubs, or studying due to their busy schedules. IB math teacher, Mr. Batres, said he usually receives between 1 and 20 students per day in his room during lunch, the latter number occurring the day before a test. 

However, there is one reason some avoid the cafeteria that is often disregarded, which is a type of unconscious stigma that exists within students. In fact, one of the most significant forms of stigma is the categorization of students into cliques based on superficial attributes such as physical appearance, clothing choices, or hobbies. This labeling perpetuates the illusion of a rigid social hierarchy, where certain groups dominate while others are relegated to the outskirts. Traditionally, the cafeteria is associated with stigma.

It creates an environment where students feel pressured to conform or face the consequences of social rejection. The fear of being labeled as an outcast or an outsider pushes many students towards seeking alternative spaces, where they can freely express themselves without fear of judgment. 

Mr. Batres explained that students usually go to his class during lunch, even though they do not need help: “It’s a safe and nonjudgmental space. I let you be you.” 

While it may be true that some students disregard this stigma and simply sit in the hallways for no specific reason, an archetypal narrative has been ingrained in society for decades through the media, and that narrative lives within teenagers.

As a matter of fact, this trend extends far beyond B-CC and is observed in other schools as well. Valeria Salas, a freshman at Walter Johnson High School, mentioned, “Nobody at WJ sits in the cafeteria. Everyone either sits in the halls or goes out, [and] most think of the cafeteria as a weird place.” Nicole Subiela, a junior from Wootton High School, was familiar with the situation. “Students mainly sit in the hallways at Wootton. There are only a few who actually sit in the cafeteria.” 

The fact that B-CC is not the only school where students prefer to have lunch anywhere but the cafeteria corroborates the fact that this unveiled stigma is now intertwined with teen culture, influencing student behavior throughout school populations. Baer shared, “I think that the lack of student engagement in the cafeteria actually adds to the school culture and has blossomed into something new, where you can meet friends at Starbucks, walk around the hallways and find people you know.”

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About the Contributor
Nathaniel Seaman, Section Director
Nat is a B-CC senior and is reprising his role as section director of art and photography for the second year in a row. In his free time, Nat enjoys boxing, reading and photography.

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