Mandatory Meal Plans: Still A Foe?

Stephaine Spearmen

Mandatory Meal Plan

After a controlled outburst against mandatory meal plans for all Pioneer Heights residents, are campus dwellers still up in arms or are they starting fresh by accepting the change?

As returning residents were signing up for another year in the dorms they learned that a mandatory mini-meal plan would be added to their expenses, even though upper-division dormitories come with a full service kitchen.

Poor communication between the students and housing management led to a protest, along with a general ill will towards the mini-meal plans.

“Nobody likes the word mandatory,” said Associate Vice President Christopher Brown.

Brown feels that the lack of dialogue with the students is to blame, not the meal plan itself.

“It’s not mandatory, it’s part of the program,” explained Brown. “Cable television is part of the program now, too, but no one says, ‘Oh, we have mandatory cable now!’”

As Brown puts it, living in the dorms is an experience and the meal plan, cable and utilities are part of the package that ultimately contribute to that experience.

“I may sound corny, but some of the best experiences of my life were living in my dorm,” added Brown.

Dorms are a place for socialization and making friends, but according to Brown, for the past few years, East Bay residence halls have been “dead.”

“Food is just a big component of socialization,” said Brown. The theory is that eating in the dining commons together will form relationships and prevent the dorms from being so “boring.”

Melissa Grottkau, former ASI Director of CLASS and leader of the meal plan protest, has no problem with the idea of creating relationships with peers on campus.

“I love the idea of a campus community,” she said. “That’s what ASI was working to achieve last year.”

Grottkau feels, however, that there are other ways to do that and forcing a meal plan on people with kitchens is not one of them.

Faculty is also making an effort to improve the health of students on campus and the meal plan is assurance that residents will get a few good meals a week.

“I’ve got an extra 15 pounds on me,” said Brown. “That’s not because we don’t have healthy choices here, it’s because I don’t make healthy choices.”

Aramark, the food provider on campus, sets up several different stations at the dining commons to allow students to chose options from various points on the healthful eating scale.

“Is Aramark making an effort to educate students on healthy options?” wondered Grottkau. “Otherwise, it seems pointless to say Aramark is trying to make our campus healthier.”

Grottkau’s protest took place in the final weeks of the quarter last spring.

“I got people to care,” she remembered. “But it didn’t go as well as planned. If I could do it over, I would have started earlier.”

Four months later, with the new scholastic year underway, are the mini-meal plans still making waves?

Beatriz Moreno, a returning Pioneer Heights resident, is one student who removed herself from the debate.

“I got my meal plan fees waved,” said Moreno. “I explained my situation to them and showed my financial aid paperwork.”

Moreno found the mini-meal plans too costly so she went to housing and objected. Is she now missing out from the dorm life experience?

“I think the meal plan brings Pioneer Heights together a little bit more,” said Chris Caldwell, a Resident Assistant (RA). “That’s a place where you will see everybody because you have such a short time frame to eat.”

Caldwell feels that student on campus get familiar with each other at the dining commons, which will hopefully lead to greater turnout for RA events.

Caldwell also conceded that the meal plans were somewhat necessary to maintain Aramark services.

“They could have continued to stick the whole tab on the freshmen,” added Caldwell, “but by opening it up it actually lowered the cost for everybody. That being said, I think longer operational hours wouldn’t hurt.”

Justin Valenzuela, a third year Pioneer Heights resident, doesn’t mind the meal plan but wishes the food had better quality.

“I like the idea of the Dining Commons, not the food,” said Valenzuela. “Meeting people, talking to people, getting to know people.”

His dissatisfaction with the food quality makes Valenzuela feel that the mini-meal plans are too costly for what they offer.

“You’re going to have to spend a lot more money because you have to pay for the meal plan and buy groceries for your dorm,” said Valenzuela.

Brown argued that this is precisely why the meal plan being part of the dormitory experience is a good idea.

“More volume, greater variety and more hours,” explained Brown.

The theory is that the more students with meal plans, bringing in revenue, the more food options will be available, the food will have a better quality and the dining commons will stay open for longer.

Valenzuela seemed skeptical with that thought, but nonetheless generally supports the projected outcomes of every resident eating in the dining commons.

“The social interaction,” concluded Valenzuela, “that’s what I come for.”