Last week, drafts of a plan to amend the structure of student meal plans became available. The plan included proposals such as a mandatory “community” meal plan for upperclassmen who are not in eating clubs, a decrease in the number of dining hall swipes available to eating club members, and a mandatory unlimited meal plan for underclassmen. While the proposed plan may aim to create a more cohesive campus community, it will have the opposite effect in practice by limiting the number of meals eating club members can have in dining halls with underclassmen and independent students. The Board opposes this proposal to alter the meal plan structure as it disproportionately disadvantages certain students, restricts the number of meals eating club members may eat in residential colleges, and deprives underclassmen of plan options.
The Board opposes the proposed “community plan,” which would be a required meal plan for upperclassmen (including those in co-ops) who are not in eating clubs and would cost $2500—around $10.71 per meal. This meal cost is higher than what a student would pay through buying groceries, and as such both financially penalizes and limits the freedom of students who wish to go independent. Many students wish to go independent because they want the freedom to spend their money how they see fit; the introduction of the community plan would deprive students of this freedom by mandating they pay a set amount each year for meals they may not want. Furthermore, the plan disproportionately disadvantages low-income students, who may wish to go independent to save money on meals. This also forces students whose dietary needs may be better served by their own cooking than by campus dining to pay for a meal plan that may not fully fit their needs.
Further, this mandatory community plan would likely deter co-op membership because students would have to pay a co-op fee on top of this community plan fee. Co-ops are strong campus communities for their members and could be threatened by this change if enough students do not wish to pay for both the community plan and a co-op. Though the plan wishes to build residential college community, the unfortunate reality is given their size, it is almost impossible for a residential college to have the same close-knit community as a smaller group. For example, many students find strong communities in co-ops, which students may be hesitant to join because of the financial burden of this plan, meaning it could effectively deprive students of a chance to engage in a close-knit community.
The Board additionally objects to the proposal that upperclassmen in eating clubs receive five meals per semester in their home residential college. This is a decrease from the two dining hall swipes per week upperclassmen currently get. Limiting the number of meals eating club members can eat in the dining halls will increase the upperclassmen/underclassmen divide by making it more difficult for them to eat meals together. It may also worsen the divide between upperclassmen who are and are not members of eating clubs by making it more difficult to eat in the dining halls with upperclassmen friends on a meal plan. Thus, the Board believes that though the plan draft states community as one of its goals, it may actually damage the sense of campus community, particularly with regard to upperclassmen/underclassmen divide and the divide between eating club and non-eating club upperclassmen.
Finally, the Board opposes the proposals forcing all underclassmen to have an unlimited meal plan and eliminating late meal. Students should have the option to choose the meal plan they feel is appropriate for them based on their eating habits. Though the plan appears to encourage students to eat all their meals in the dining hall, it neglects to acknowledge that many students do not eat three meals per day and thus could still eat all their meals in the dining hall with a smaller meal plan. This disadvantages students who have fewer meals and prioritizes those who have many; students should not be forced to pay for meals for which they have no use. Additionally, by eliminating late meal, the proposal destroys an incredibly important aspect of the underclassmen social experience. Late meal unifies underclassmen and allows students to gather and form a sense of community in a way unique from dining hall meals, making its elimination detrimental to the campus community.
Because the draft meal plan disadvantages non-eating club students—particularly those of low-income backgrounds—increases community divides on campus, deprives underclassmen of the ability to choose an appropriate meal plan, and eliminates an important aspect of the underclassmen social experience, the Board opposes the proposed changes to the current meal plan system.
This dissent is primarily concerned with an issue about which the Board has written before: the importance of strengthening the sign-in clubs. As the Board noted previously, “sign-in clubs have broadly experienced membership declines over the past decade” since the University created the four-year residential college system. While the University has taken admirable steps to increase the dining and residential options available to upperclassmen, these changes have seemingly discouraged students from joining sign-in eating clubs, lowering these clubs’ membership rates. This is unfortunate because sign-in clubs play an important role on campus as inclusive alternatives to bicker clubs and as another option for upperclassmen to find a community at Princeton. The University has an interest in promoting tight-knit communities such as those found in eating clubs. Gradual erosion of the eating club system, to be replaced by non-community-focused dining options, would not strengthen the University community.
We argue that the proposed changes would have the positive benefit of stemming such erosion by encouraging more students to join sign-in eating clubs. Requiring all non-eating club members to purchase a ‘community meal plan’ corrects the disincentives the current system creates against joining eating clubs, by essentially paying students to go independent through increasing financial aid to all upperclassmen. The reality is that it is extremely unlikely eating clubs will be abolished. Each club has a strong alumni network, the University does not have the capacity to feed all upperclassmen without the clubs, and eating clubs provide positive and tight-knit social communities for their members in a way residential colleges and upperclassmen dorms do not. Given that the eating club system is likely here to stay, the University ought to do as much as possible to strengthen the sign-in clubs so they remain viable alternatives to bicker clubs. By making it impossible to go fully independent, the proposed changes should boost membership at sign-in clubs.
That said, the proposed policies are not perfect. For example, an additional positive step would be for the University to commit to providing sufficient financial aid to eating club members to ensure that there is no financial obstacle to joining a club. The University should also exempt co-op members, in addition to eating club members, from purchasing the community meal plan because co-ops provide a similar community experience as the clubs do. We believe the proposed changes would create a substantial improvement over the status quo by supporting stronger sign-in club membership; accordingly, we support these changes and respectfully dissent from this editorial.
Allison Berger ‘18
Theodore Furchtgott ‘18