Every year, 70 percent of undergraduate upperclassmen at Princeton participate in the eating club system. Recently, though, a growing proportion of Princetonians are choosing to be independent; these students often do not know where to get the food for their next meal and whether it will be nutritious, a sit-down affair, or just a slice of pizza scavenged from a campus event. As noted in the Prince’s coverage of independent student challenges, many students choose to be independent for financial reasons, which creates a troubling inequality across socioeconomic lines in the way students eat. The Board supports many of the suggestions brought up by students in the Independent Student Advisory Board survey and proposes other steps the University should take to improve conditions for independent students.
First, to affirm a common independent stance, the Board suggests that the University create an on-campus food mart for independent students to purchase basic groceries. Grocery stores within walking distance are expensive, and transportation by local bus and TigerTransit is often time-consuming or inconvenient. Our proposed on-campus food mart could take the form of expanded grocery offerings at the U-Store or a cooperative effort with Dining Services to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for independent students to buy. This proposal dovetails with the Board’s previous suggestion to combat food waste in the dining halls with the help of independents.
Additionally, the Board recommends reforms to kitchen access in upperclassman housing. Currently, most independent students must share kitchens with other dormitory occupants. Consequently, if non-independent students do not clean up after themselves, the responsibility falls on an independent student, someone with a pressing need to cook, to clean the space. Therefore, we propose that kitchens in upperclassman dormitories be reserved for independent students, as is the case in Pyne and Lockhart Halls, where only independent students receive kitchen keys from the Housing Department. Non-independent students, meanwhile, can still use kitchens in residential colleges for their cooking needs.
Besides proposing these University policy changes, the Board also calls on the eating clubs to consider the growing portion of independent upperclassmen in their guest meal policies. Many clubs offer one or two guest meals per month to each of their members, allowing them to bring visitors from out of town or independent friends. However, some clubs do not offer any guest meals without charging a fee. Considering that the inter-club exchange system allows for meal exchanges between two members of different clubs, the Board recommends that all eating clubs provide one to three guest meals per month to their members. By doing this, the eating clubs can allow members to keep up meaningful friendships with independent students without imposing a strain on club kitchens or a financial burden on their members. We encourage non-independent students to take advantage of these opportunities, look with understanding on their independent classmates, and work towards overcoming the unintended isolating effects of an eating-club dominated food scene.
Finally, the Board commends recent initiatives to create events, such as the USG Winter Formal, that provide campus-wide social opportunities for all students, including those not associated with eating clubs. Being independent is not just a matter of finding one’s own food, but it also presents a challenge for creating and maintaining social ties. Events, especially those with free food that are open to all are great ways to bridge the dining options divide and create more camaraderie among students. Potential future events could include College Nights where former members of residential colleges can eat meals without a swipe or social events for independents that are analogous to eating club semiformals.
Where, what, and with whom one eats at Princeton has a large bearing on students' experiences, from nutritional health to feelings of identity and belonging. As the University seeks to promote a more diverse student body, its policies should keep in mind that paying $6,000 to $10,000 a year for eating options — whether in the dining halls or on Prospect Avenue — is simply not a feasible option for some students. If current trends continue, we should expect to see a growing proportion of students choosing independent options, and the University can work towards a more integrated community by taking steps not only to accommodate independent students, but to help them thrive. Beyond the policies, we hope that students see the value in building and maintaining relationships across the dining divide and empower each other to build a positive eating culture.
Connor Pfeiffer ’18 recused himself from the writing of this editorial.
The Editorial Board is an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of The Daily Princetonian. The Board answers only to its Co-Chairs, the Opinion Editor, and the Editor-in-Chief. It can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.