In sweeping move, university revokes freshmen’s freedom to choose where they get their food
On January 30, Director of Housing and Dining Services Lisa Aiello sent a campus-wide email describing changes to university housing meal plans. The news left many students with a stomach ache.
“Beginning the 2023-2024 academic year,” announced the email, “all residential students who are required to live on-campus will be required to have a full meal plan, no matter where they live.” The email continued, “We believe this is a more equitable application of our existing policies and protocols.”
Despite repeating what this change is in two subsequent paragraphs, the email still left many confused, so The Pacific Index contacted Aiello for clarification. She said that students who are required to live on campus are “those that are not 20 years old and those that are not 20 years old prior to the start of fall classes or have not lived on-campus for at least two-years to live on-campus.” This means that freshmen and sophomores under 20 years old are the main target of this change.
Part of the change, Aiello explained, is due to Pacific’s housing lottery. “During the Housing Lottery, students select space in a lottery system based on academic credits (seniors pick first, then juniors, then sophomores, then freshmen). Based on this system a limited number of apartment spaces will be available when the current freshman class starts to select rooms and therefore it is not fair to all current freshmen that some don’t have to be on a meal plan and some do.”
Freshman Jen Zirkle would be one of those impacted. “I was lucky enough to have a kitchen this year,” she said. Burlingham Hall, where Zirkle lives, is a 15-year old dorm with kitchens and apartment-style dorms; designed that way to foster a feeling of grown-up community. “Having the ability to cook has been very nice for me, and it doesn’t make sense that I lose that ability just because I have to be on a meal plan next year. For example, my roommate is not even on the meal plan this year and she’s going to be forced to be on a meal plan next year despite her managing perfectly well without one. I think it’s not in the best interest of students but more in the best interests of people who make money.”
Declan Bartel, a fifth-year student said, “It sounds unreasonable to make people pay for something that, you know, they have a kitchen so they don’t need to so it seems kind of pointless.” Unlike the majority of upperclassmen, Bartel chooses to have a meal plan. “I think I’m the only one of my roommates who has a meal plan right now and I haven’t been complaining about it. One of my roommates specifically just loves cooking in general. He loves to cook. And the only reason that I choose not to is simply out of time, but if I had the time or if I felt like I had the time I would probably choose to cook for myself.”
Bartel also pointed out some of the financial impacts of being forced to buy a meal plan: “My family is at a socioeconomic level that they pay for my schooling, which does strain them. Considering the expense of the meal plan for those who are maybe outside that, like FAFSA range—to be made to pay that extra cost when it could realistically be cheaper to just have a kitchen and buy groceries seems unreasonable.”
Currently, the meal plan costs $3,238 per semester, and each meal plan differs in how many dining bucks and meals you get. This difference affects how much this plan actually saves students in comparison to how much it costs to get into the door without a meal plan. For example, by subtracting the amount of dining bucks from the total cost of the plan and dividing that number by the amount of meals you get for each plan (with guest meals included), Meal Plan 4 turns out to be the cheapest, clocking in per meal at around $9.32. Meal Plan 1 price jumps significantly, eventually making its way to $21.22 per meal. In comparison, the at-the-door student price for dinner is $9.00. That’s the most expensive meal you can purchase, the cheapest being breakfast which is $6.00. This isn’t even considering the scenario that you don’t use up all of your meals; if you have meals left over, you are basically throwing that money away.
“They’re just trying to suck all the money out of us,” said Isaac Rutherford, a freshman. “Some students are a little bit more independent and have the ability to pay for their own food off campus, and it’s a little bit cheaper because not everybody has enough money to pay for the meal plans because of how expensive they are. I feel like if people had the option of choosing the meal plan or making food themselves, I think that would be better.”
If you are experiencing difficulty paying for food, consider applying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Learn more and apply online at fns.usda.gov/snap — Aaron Meeuwsen