The Undergraduate Student Government (USG) held a town hall on Thursday, Oct. 6 to collect feedback on the University’s proposed upperclass dining pilot, as well as the junior and senior dining experience more broadly.
The assembly was scheduled after The Daily Princetonian broke the news two weeks prior that the University is working on plans to pilot a new program in the upcoming semester that would give upperclass students five extra meal swipes per week to be used at any dining hall, eating club, or co-op. The program could come with the potential $1,500 tuition increase. In response to the proposal, a six-member coalition of student leaders released a five-point proposal on Tuesday, Oct. 4 that offered alternative suggestions for modifying the upperclass dining experience.
About 20 undergraduate students attended Thursday’s assembly. Many students expressed skepticism and concern about the ways in which the University’s proposal could transform Princeton’s dining landscape. A few eating club members and leaders spoke up about potential logistical issues it could create.
“Our dining space is small, and we are at complete full capacity in terms of membership,” Charter Club Treasurer Ally Noone ’23 said. “It would be very difficult to accommodate the extra people the University’s plan would bring in on any given night.”
Some students also expressed some concerns about the current state of upperclass dining. Some discussed the financial burden of joining an eating club, highlighting difficulties they have experienced in obtaining financial aid through the University to cover eating club fees, particularly at the time year that payments are due. Several students shared that they had found eating clubs financially inaccessible and were struggling as upperclass students to find the same groups and communities they had formed around meals as first-years and sophomores.
The alternative plan proposed by student leaders attempts to address these concerns. Real Food Co-op President Naomi Frim-Abrams ’23 said at the assembly that eliminating the potential cost increase of the University’s proposal was the biggest goal of the alternative plan, especially given the existing concerns with the current costs associated with upperclass dining.
This student-led plan also proposes possible solutions to the social concerns students expressed, including expanding the upperclass extra swipes program and implementing weekly designated eating club-hosted events that would be open to all upperclass students.
Camille Reeves ’23, a member of Cannon Dial Elm Club, expressed concerns regarding the University’s plan’s potential impact on her club. “Our kitchen can’t handle having extra swipes,” she said.
Noone, the Charter officer, also expressed worries that the plan could jeopardize the security of the clubs.
“We also maintain a very strict blacklist for all our nights out,” she said. “We want to maintain this in all club spaces, not just nights out, in order to keep our members safe.” This blacklist would be difficult to maintain should clubs be opened to the larger campus community for meals, Noone said.
Inter-Club Council (ICC) and Ivy Club President Sophie Singletary ’23 also wondered about the increased financial strain the plan would place on the eating clubs themselves.
“Requiring the eating clubs to shoulder the financial burden of this proposed plan would do nothing but further increase dues, making clubs even more prohibitively expensive,” she said.
Singletary also said “underhanded politics” may have been at play when the University first introduced this plan to the ICC, explaining that administrators presented the plan as something that co-ops had already agreed to.
Similarly, Frim-Abrams also said that the plan had been presented to co-op leadership as being already approved by the ICC.
In reality, however, co-op members are equally concerned as eating club members with the plan’s impact on their organizations, according to Frim-Abrams and Singletary.
Frim-Abrams said that “the University is thinking that they’ll financially compensate co-ops for the guests, but we don’t think this will cover the logistical challenges of the plan. Financial compensation doesn’t solve the issues the plan creates with things like food storage, kitchen space, and cleaning duties.”
“I think the University is slightly confused about how co-ops work,” she said.
Noone said that she wonders what this plan might mean in the long run both for eating club and co-op communities.
“I’m questioning the University’s motivations in the first place,” she said. “It has never really seemed to me like the administration is supportive of eating clubs. I’ve been trying to figure out why that would be because I think that they provide really amazing communities on campus that you can opt to be in, same with co-ops. It’s something that students elect and I think a lot of students are happy with their choices.”
USG Communications Director River Reynolds ’24 closed the assembly by encouraging community members to continue offering feedback to USG via a google form that was emailed to residential college listservs on Tuesday, Oct. 4.
USG President Mayu Takeuchi ’23 said at the USG Senate meeting on Sunday, Oct. 9 that the form has gathered over 200 responses. Many respondents expressed frustrations that the plan was poorly thought out and detracts from the close community elements that eating clubs and co-ops provide, she said, while others appreciated the attempt to make eating clubs more open and less restrictive, even if the plan itself is flawed.
Negative responses to the pilot program ranged from “since the whole point of having a co-op is to have self-sufficient community that cooks for itself, what is the point of having a co-op if any random person who doesn’t give back to the community can mooch off of cooked meals?” to “As an eating club member I strongly oppose having to allow non-members to eat at eating clubs.”
Many respondents who expressed appreciation for certain elements of the University’s proposed plan also stated that they took major issue with the possibility of a cost increase or with the inclusion of co-ops in the plan.
Takeuchi shared in a message to the ‘Prince’ that she and other student leaders met with administrators on Friday, Oct. 7 to discuss this student feedback and the proposed changes to the dining program.
“We all — administrators and students representing eating clubs and co-ops as well as students who are independent and on meal plans — recognize the need to improve fluidity in the upperclass dining experience,” Takeuchi wrote.
She noted that administrators “expressed a commitment to take student concerns and suggestions into ‘serious consideration’” as discussions progress.
Annie Rupertus is a sophomore from Philadelphia, an Assistant Data Editor, and a News staff writer who covers USG for the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @annierupertus on Instagram and Twitter.
Alison Araten is a staff news writer for the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at email@example.com and @alisonaraten on instagram.