Let me study at a coffee shop: we both have every right to be there
The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the West Island News.
Earlier this week, I reached out to the virtual community asking for local coffee shops that allowed students to study. Some cafés have specific sections marked where you are not allowed to have a laptop, so I wanted to avoid an unnecessary trip and show up somewhere I knew I would be permitted to bring my school stuff.
I was stunned to see the backlash from fellow citizens telling me to “study at home”, or “go to a library” instead. One person did not hesitate to express their discontent at students “hogging tables” and “prohibiting paying customers from having somewhere to sit.”
Here I was, simply trying to get out of the house and get ahead on my homework, and somehow, someone found a way to bash it.
So, if you’ve ever been frustrated by studying students, perhaps this article will shed light on a perspective or two you may not have considered.
1. Cafés are more accessible than libraries
Nowadays, public libraries that don’t require a membership to enter are fewer and farther between. Not everyone has a library nearby that they can access. Especially if a student doesn’t have access to a car, it can be difficult to walk, bike, or take public transit to the “nearest” library.
Coffee shops, on the other hand, are nearly a dime a dozen. For someone living in the city, there is quite literally a coffee shop at every corner. For someone living in the suburbs, the likelihood that there is a coffee shop nearby is higher than the likelihood of a library.
Furthering that point, for me personally (and I know I’m not alone in this) it can be difficult to focus in a library. I’m someone who doesn’t do well in a completely silent environment. The white noise of a coffee shop, combined with the hustle and bustle of comings and goings actually helps me concentrate more. Many students seek out a café environment for precisely that reason.
2. You have no idea what my home situation is
As nice as it is for you to assume that I or my fellow students have the luxury of studying at home, you really don’t have any way of knowing what living situation I’ve left to come to the café.
Some students living in poverty may not have access to Wi-Fi to attend their classes, which have almost all been made virtual due to COVID-19. Some students may be living in group or foster homes, and some may even be living out of their cars.
The coffee shop on the corner may be a student’s quietest, most reliable option.
3. You don’t know how much money I’ve spent
I am just as much a paying customer as anyone else in that establishment.
When I go to a coffee shop and know that I’ll be there for a little while, I make sure to purchase something – whether it’s a drink or a pastry – every hour. Of course, there’s no guarantee that all students will approach the scenario the same way, but anyone I’ve spent time around has.
But for argument’s sake, even if a student goes into a coffee shop, sits down, takes their computer out, gets to work, and orders absolutely nothing, it’s still not up to you to decide that they don’t have a right to be there.
If the owner or manager of the establishment has a problem with a customer overstaying their welcome or under-purchasing, it is up to that owner or manager to put measures in place to avoid the situation or ask the person to leave.
4. Sometimes I don’t get a seat because of people like you
For as many times as I’ve gotten a seat in a coffee shop, there are an equal amount of times that I haven’t gotten one because they are all being used by couples, families, or old friends catching up or perhaps reading the newspaper.
Restaurants and cafés are working at a reduced capacity which means that there are fewer spots to sit at, even on a good day. I’ve shown up at a local coffee shop and turned around at the door because there were no spots for me. My point? You win some, you lose some.
Coffee shops are public spaces, and it's not up to you or me to define what "public" consists of.
So the next time you head into your local café, I hope you'll be equipped with a bit more patience and understanding. At the end of the day, we're all just trying to do our best.