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Students react with outrage to proposed changes to dining plan

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

After a draft of proposed changes to meal plans was circulated via a student’s email on Tuesday night, students expressed frustration and outrage regarding. The potential plans would require underclassmen to purchase an unlimited plan and all upperclass students who are not part of an eating club to purchase a “Community Plan.”

“This draft document was distributed to students Tuesday at Wilson College during the first of several residential college focus groups planned by the Board Plan Review Committee,” explained University spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss in a statement. “The committee — made up of staff and students — continues to seek student input as it develops recommendations for campus dining options that support the diverse needs of Princeton’s undergraduate student body.”

Chris Zhang ’18, a member of the Real Food Co-op, explained that the change could result in many negative consequences.

“I think that there’s probably good intentions behind this plan that they want to build the upperclassmen community in the dining hall as an alternative to eating clubs, but I think it’ll be doing lots of harm and little good,” Zhang said.

“The draft document reflects recommendations the committee is seeking comments on. The committee looks forward to hearing more from students at the upcoming focus groups,” Hotchkiss said.

The circulated document is a draft of a proposal for which the University is seeking feedback. The proposal outlines the “Community Plan,” which would require all upperclassmen who are not members of an eating club to purchase a mandatory meal plan for $2500. The proposal, if implemented, would also require all first-year students and sophomores to purchase an unlimited plan in hopes of establishing a “connection for all students to residential college dining.”

The draft document also suggested extending dining hall hours and eliminating late meal. Additionally, the proposal includes the expansion of the University’s dining points program, launched in September 2017. Dining points, which can be used in place of cash at Campus Dining locations, are currently only included with the Block 95 meal plan. The new proposal would add 250 dining points to the unlimited meal plan and to the new “Community Plan.”

The new proposal also eliminates the Two Extra Meals program, which currently allows juniors and seniors not on a dining plan to eat twice a week for free in the residential colleges, a total of thirty free credits per semester. Instead, the proposal states that juniors and seniors will be alloted five “home college meals” semesterly, which can be eaten in the dining hall of their residential college. 

No changes to meal plans would go into effect for the 2018–2019 academic year, Hotchkiss explained.

In several emails that circulated on listservs Tuesday night, students were encouraged to attend three focus group meetings designed to allow students to share feedback on the proposal with relevant administrators. The meetings are on April 17 at 9 a.m. in the Forbes Private Dining Room, April 19 at 6 p.m. in the RoMa PDR, and April 20 at 12 p.m. in the Whitman PDR. If unable to attend one of these sessions, students can submit feedback online.

One student, Will Johnson ’19, began a GoFundMe to “give Princeton a dictionary.” According to a Facebook post where he shared the link to the GoFundMe, he wrote that he started the fundraiser because “they [the University] obviously don’t understand the meaning of independent.”

“When I saw the email, I thought it was a joke at first,” Johnson explained in an interview. “I was confused and upset, then annoyed and angry.”

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Johnson cooks his own meals, eats with his family in the area, or goes to restaurants.

“I find it hard to eat my two meals [weekly through the Two Extra Meals program] in the dining hall as it is,” Johnson. “I can’t imagine eating the number of [dining hall] meals proposed in the email.”

“I feel that this proposal takes away a lot of freedom from students,” Johnson added. “I chose to be independent not only to save money but also to have the freedom to spend money on what I want.”

LiQian Peng ’19, a member of the Scully co-op, wrote in a statement about her frustration with the drafted proposal, especially since, for her, it seemed that the University was showing more support for co-ops by approving the new Scully co-op.

She, like Johnson, spoke about the lessened control that independent students would have over their meals. She wrote on her own experience as a junior who had to purchase the Block 95 plan — the lowest meal plan available — while also participating in a co-op. According to Peng, after a semester of capitalizing on seminar events with food, using her co-op membership, and having opportunities to meal exchange with friends, she ended up having half of her meal swipes left.

“The drafted proposal would strongly deter students from joining coops or going independent, in particular by imposing a significant financial burden on students interested in cooking together or having greater control over the food they're eating,” Peng wrote.

Peng also noted the potential the drafted proposal would have to cause tension, as upperclassmen in eating clubs would be singled out as the only students who would have a scaled-down dining plan.

She would rather that the University look at different options when revising meal plans, such as making the expanded social options listed in the drafted proposal available to all upperclassmen and keeping a range of meal plan options for students to choose from.

“My situation calls for expanded apartment-style housing, more Independent-friendly rooms, and more co-ops on campus (which the independent community has been asking for for years),” she wrote. “It would also be great to have truly de-coupled housing and dining plans so that on-campus housing does not require having any meal plan at all, for instance.”

Zhang suggested that the committee look at an optional, cheaper dining hall plan for upperclassmen. That way, he explained, eating in a dining hall would mean paying for a meal comparable to the prices at Panera Bread “instead of it being comparable to Winberie’s.”

Underclassmen have also expressed doubts about a new requirement to make the unlimited plan mandatory for first-year students and sophomores.

“It would be unfair for people who are on financial aid or anyone who doesn't want to pay for it and would rather pay for somewhere else,” Jane Brown ’21 said. “It's a free will question: what do you want to eat?”

Hannah Fein ’20, although a fan of the unlimited meal plan, said she finds the potential elimination of late meal to be a problem. She noted, however, that many of her friends are not on the unlimited plan and their quality of life at the University seems barely affected.

“I don’t understand why we would get rid of it [late meal] because it fulfills a completely different need than D-hall food/meals — it’s perfect for late night snacks, stocking up on water bottles or boxed fruit or chips for snacks, or grabbing something in such a central location right on the way to class,” Fein said.