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Because I was one of the first hundred people to visit the new Loker Commons on Opening Day, I received a free Seattle's Best Coffee mug stuffed with coupons and some gourmet chocolate-covered espresso beans. This unexpected gift made me happy, and I sat at one of the new brushed-metal tables in the coffee shop, beaming as I drank my mocha.
I had been looking forward to Opening Day for weeks. Curious friends and I had snuck downstairs after "Ec 10" lectures to watch the construction. Centuries away from the awe-inspiring gothic majesty of Sanders Theatre and the half-finished Annenberg Hall, Loker looked humble, even homey. The semi-hidden booths beckoned me to sit, study and have a cup of coffee.
In the weeks since Loker's grand opening, I have sipped countless cups of coffee there. I have tried nearly all the vegetarian dishes, concluding that the Coffee Shop's grilled panini sandwiches are a much better value than the pizza. I have even chatted with the man behind the candy counter about adding mangoes to his dried fruit selection. I have become a Lokerling.
And it's not only me, either. On a typical night at Loker I recognize at least five people as soon as I walk in. It seems as if the entire student body has moved in. During finals, Loker was filled with groups of students comparing notes and guzzling the bottomless sodas. Even now that proximity to caffeine is not an absolute necessity, a nighttime trip to Loker is a frequent event in many students' lives.
Loker has become just what it was designed to be: a real student center, a place where students can meet, study, check their e-mail, and eat decent food that they can charge to their parents. Few people will just drop by Au Bon Pain or Scoops and Beans to see who's there, but you can safely expect to find people you know at Loker Commons.
You can see this sentiment in action when you observe the many backpacks and coats left unattended while their owners wait in line for some Indian lentil soup in a bread bowl. Who would leave a coat on a chair in Au Bon Pain? No one who wants to keep it, certainly.
Location is an additional factor in Loker's popularity. Because the food is much better than that served at the Greenhouse Cafe, students who are in the Science Center or stepping off the Quad shuttle are more likely to stop at Loker for a snack. When I met a Quad-dwelling friend for coffee recently, she was delighted that she no longer had to walk all the way across the Yard in the cold to get a drink. But, of course, the reason everybody likes Loker is, as several students have put it, "Free food!"
Under the new Crimson Cash system, students no longer have to carry real money. For the perennially cashless, this means that you don't have to write a check for $1.02.
Crimson Cash enables students, in effect, to charge snacks to their parents. After the initial $75 is spent-I'm ashamed to say I'm already down to $52.97-you can charge added credit to your parents' Visa. This is a major draw.
To increase Loker's popularity, Dining Services launched a successful public relations campaign, including a sweepstakes and the free coffee cups on Opening Day. Students can also collect stamps for free food items. College students being as easily coaxed by offers of prizes as they are, the campaign served to raise Loker's visibility on campus.
But like all new ventures, particularly Harvard ventures, Loker has its drawbacks. Many students complain of the overcrowding and noise. It's hard to navigate around the tiny tables in the coffee house holding an oversized cup of steaming Tazo tea. The basement factor also has some undergraduates worried that Loker is uncool.
It's difficult to look at the psychedelic electronic billboards for more than a few seconds. It's impossible to see the images on the LED display screen without standing all the way across the room. You can only read the first chapter of Alice in Wonderland so many times before your eyes begin to cross. And the "Poetry in Motion" program, despite its worthy aim of exposing the Harvard masses to high culture, is just too hard to focus on while having a conversation.
The Crimson Cash program has also drawn fire. Because Annenberg Hall, in all its majesty, is only open to first-years, hungry upperclass students are forced to spend money at Loker (or the Greenhouse) if they want to eat in the Memorial Hall area. This unnecessarily reduces their supply of Crimson Cash.
Problems aside, Loker Commons undeniably fills a serious void in the Harvard community. The need for a student center, a place that Harvard undergraduates can call their own, far outweighs the lack of food selection or the crowded tables.
The only way to ensure continuing University support for our student center is to patronize Loker, even if it means spending $1.45 for a slice of lousy pizza. If students decide that Loker's inconveniences mean a visit to Memorial Hall is not worth the walk, Loker will slowly die out. Future "new Dining Services concepts" like this one will be imperiled. Having a student center, and encouraging the University to try new types of services, is imperative.
Chana R. Schoenberger would also like to mention that drinking several large cups of coffee and staring at the electronic bulletin board can be a very entertaining experience.
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