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What's Cooking in the Dining Hall Community Kitchen? Nothing, anymore.

Updated: Nov 16, 2022

By Cooper Drummond and Starllie SwonYoung

Photo of the room where the Community Kitchen was located up until the beginning of this week. (Photo by Starllie SwonYoung)

The community kitchen that was next to the Dining Hall (D-Hall) is currently in the process of being replaced by a bathroom.

“Overall, the decision with regards to the bathroom relates back to general space

allocations,” said Lukas Gunderson, assistant director of quality assurance for the Office of Facilities Management.

Students appear to be upset by the sudden deconstruction of culinary items in the kitchen.

“Upon hearing about how they're gonna be renovating this into a bathroom, I got kind of irritated,” said Joseph Cereola, a sophomore studio composition major. Cereola found out about the community kitchen before coming to school here, learning about it through friends who attended the school. Cereola was thankful to have made ricotta bread before the community kitchen shut down.

“Why did they take our kitchen? It's like immediately after we ask for improvement they take the whole thing away,” said Eli Bubb, a sophomore graphic design major. He and Isabella Milanowski, a sophomore political science major, would come to the D-Hall community kitchen once a week or more to cook meals together and with friends. The pair had utilized the kitchen to make everything from pizza and homemade garlic knots to spinach pie, and rice crispy treats for the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” bake sale.

“I never used the community kitchen and I probably wasn’t really ever going to,” said Henry Eisner, an undeclared freshman. “But I thought it was a nice thing and I had considered using it. I liked having the option to use it.”

Four plates of homemade pizza and garlic knots (made by Milanowski and Bubb), along with boxes of apple juice and a container of parmesan cheese at one of the community kitchen tables. (Photo via Isabella Milanowski)

“The decision was made by Residence Life and other professional staff members who are no longer with the college,” said Gunderson. He was not directly involved in these discussions, he said, but has insight into some of the community kitchen’s history. “The decision probably goes back to 2018, I would say, to retire it from its current use… Any plan that the campus has, for the most part, is usually made three or four years before it actually has any action,” said Gunderson.

According to Kate Hageman, resident coordinator of Crossroads in 2018 and current residence coordinator of Wayback, the person in charge of the community kitchen at the time was Mario Rapetti, the former dean of Student Life. In February 2020, Rapetti left Purchase and was replaced by Antony Ware, former director of residential services and former interim director of residence life and housing, and Caitlin Houlihan-Twomey, former interim director of student life.

“They were asked to basically step up to cover his responsibilities. Caitlin managed a lot of orientation and programming on campus and Antony was more responsible for housing operations and Residence Life. So, they shared a director role for a little over a year,” said Hageman.

“Antony was in charge of the kitchen, and he's the one that made the decision to shut it down,” said Albana Munrett, current director of Student Life. Ware left Purchase in August 2021 and Houlihan-Towmey went on maternity leave that same time. Houlihan-Towmey officially left Purchase in April 2022.

Munrett has been in her role since June 2022. She worked in the athletics department for 15 years before her current position. Munrett’s department oversees the two community kitchens on campus– the one next to D-Hall and the one in Wayback. Yet her department is not as knowledgeable about its history as other people, like Gunderson. “Believe it or not, this entire department is almost brand new,” she said.

A sign hung above the community kitchen sink that read: “Wash your Dishes Please. The maid quit and mummy does not work here (and would be embarrassed by your behavior if she did.) Please tidy up after yourselves. The key word is ‘community’”. (Photo by Starllie SwonYoung)

Students who had used the Dining Hall community kitchen tended to not be satisfied with its level of cleanliness.

“A lot of people [didn’t] clean up after themselves,” said Milanowski. “Every time we [went] we carried a bag of our own cleaning supplies to clean everything like cleaning spray and cloth because nothing [there was] ever clean. Which suck[ed], because it [was] a community kitchen.”

Prior to the announcement of its closing, Milanowski voiced their desire to see improvements to the cleanliness of the kitchen without it being removed, saying, “This [was] a nice kitchen if it were to [have] been fixed. Please don’t close it, but fix it."

”Most of the times that I [went there] it [was] usually a mess,” said Cereola. “Dishes [were] everywhere and left in the sink. It kind of [felt] like most people forgot to clean up after themselves and take some important stuff back with them.” Cereola stated that before they used the space they “would need to clean everything up first,” and sanitize surfaces to feel comfortable baking in it.

Sophomores Eli Bubb (left) and Isabella Milanowski (right) cook in the community kitchen on a Tuesday night. (Photo by Starllie SwonYoung)

“In 2018 and 2019, students could ask RAs to unlock it if they wanted to use it,” said Hageman. “But, we ran into a lot of issues where students would go in and use it and then either not lock up afterward or not tell the RA they were done with it. Or they and then other people would go in and make a mess, or they just wouldn't clean up.”

Gunderson blames the outdated structure of the D-Hall community kitchen for these problems. “It was designed in, I would have to say, either the 90’s, if not earlier, with the intent of being a full community kitchen,” he said. The kitchen was tucked away behind a door in a hallway between the door to the tunnels connecting Farside, Central, and Crossroads. These dorms are called the big three, and first-year students make up the majority of their population. The tunnels also connect to the Dining Hall lobby.

Gunderson says this has caused specific incidents regarding the community kitchen in the Dining Hall. “There were instances where students were cooking and then left and then fire alarms went off and UPD [university police department] showed up and there was a cardboard box in the oven with the oven on. So, it wasn't able to be closely monitored in its previous format,” he said.

Photo of the community kitchen, which had two tables, two ovens (one functional), two sofas (not pictured), and a sink. (Photo by Starllie SwonYoung)

Gunderson also stated, “There were cabinets and storage facilities [in the community kitchen] that people would leave food in. Anytime you have exposed food, it has the capability of attracting pests.”

“The community kitchen model that was implemented by Resident Life at the time had taken a stance of building community and responsibility,” continued Gunderson. “It was not maintained by the students. So, it was destroyed likely by a very small minority group of students, so a couple of students may have trashed the space, but then otherwise, everyone else was unfortunately left with the results of that.”

“When it was being used before COVID-19, it was much cleaner, the [custodial staff] had a rotation where they would go in and clean it and take care of it,” said Munrett.

He compared the kitchen next to the dining hall to Wayback’s community kitchen. “The Wayback one is more of a modern understanding of high occupancy use… It's in the main entrance of the lobby and it's across from the office setting, which is in an opened and exposed area. So those individuals who may have felt the need to purposefully harm the condition of the other kitchen may be less inclined to do so,” said Gunderson. It is worth noting that Wayback is the most recently built residence on campus, which first opened to students in the fall of 2019.

Photo of the Wayback community kitchen (Photo by Starllie SwonYoung)

With the community kitchen next to D-Hall closing, the Wayback community kitchen will be the only kitchen available to students who wish to cook, unless they have a friend who is willing to share their apartment kitchen.

“Thinking about those freshman dorms that don't have kitchens, they should also have access to it,” said Ruby Gauchman, an upperclassman photo major and commuter.

Unlike the apartments, Wayback does not have an oven.

“If someone wants to bake, how are they going to do that?” said Kai Cullen, a sophomore new media major.

All residence halls at SUNY Purchase have some required form of identification to prove you live there. Most of them require a key, and in the case of Wayback, a more card scan. No such barrier existed in the D-Hall community kitchen. This was important for non-big three students without access to tunnels, as they could just enter from the Dining Hall lobby.

“It was here, it was accessible and now it’s not,” said David Goldstein, a sophomore. He made chicken parmesan in the D-Hall community kitchen last year when he was a Fort Awesome resident. “It was really good, but it's because I was able to do it and because I didn’t live in Wayback at the time.”

Most students on a meal plan who wish to cook will be competing for the one space in Wayback. Cullen, a Wayback resident, said, “that’s not valid.”

Gunderson is not hopeful about the future of another community kitchen existing near the big three. ”In the past, the major contributing factors have been really if it boils down to if we have a certain amount of money to spend and allocate towards projects. Will a kitchen become a greater resource, as opposed to brand-new furniture or brand-new bathrooms? So for a lot of that, we're in close conversation with residence life. But by and large, usually, kitchens, because they are secondary… especially for some of the residential areas that are meal plan-required, may take less of a priority,” said Gunderson.

As a vegetarian though, Milanowski appreciated having the community kitchen. They have “struggled to find a lot of food on campus, so being able to make [their] own food is actually really nice,” they said.

Screenshot of the petition to replace/ reinstate the community kitchen, with 51 signatures.

Bubb has created a petition to bring back the community kitchen next to D-Hall, which gained 70 signatures as of Nov. 6. He said that flyers will soon be out on campus.

In an email, Bubb wrote, “Beyond the ability to adhere to different dietary restrictions the school struggles to accommodate, cooking itself is fun. Not only did we get good food, but cooking itself was part of the ritual. It’s a skill you need to learn and develop over time. Other skills include the ability to grocery shop, meal plan, and make well-rounded healthy meals.”

“Having the ability to continue practicing those skills while in school is important. There were too many benefits to the community kitchen for the school to get rid of it,” Bubb continued. “We believe not only that the community kitchen should be brought back, but also that there should be kitchens added to more of the resident halls. Being able to cook and eat on campus shouldn’t be so inaccessible.”



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