For many, the holiday season in college is filled with time away from school, relishing a period of much-needed rest from classwork. However, some students who stay on campus during break do not have this luxury — they worry about affording all of the extra expenses that come with living and eating on a college campus.
In the past, people staying during the break had to pay extra to live in the dorms. However, after students advocated for change, the policy was amended to allow people to request to stay on campus over break without an additional charge as long as space permits.
“As of fall 2022, we no longer charge students for staying on campus over break housing periods. Student housing felt it was important to not place this financial burden on students and decided to remove this cost,” John Yaun, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and director of student housing, said.
This change lifted a heavy financial load for many, but a large problem persists: finding accessible and affordable food while on campus. Jonathan Dabel, an economics major from Boston, recalls that when he first tried to stay over winter break his freshman year, the cost for a meal plan placed a burden on him as a student who had to work to support himself financially.
The costs for meal plans vary depending on the break period and how many meals the student would like to purchase for that time.
“The cost of the intersession and summer meal plans depend on the number of meals purchased. As the number of meals purchased goes up, the price per meal goes down,” Kathy Tidwell, director of contractual services and university licensing, said. “Current door rates at The Dish at the Residential College and Rebel Market are $11 for breakfast and $13.50 for lunch or dinner, not including tax.”
Based on these estimates, it would cost a student $38 a day to eat three meals on campus.
Dabel explained that for him, living on campus was not possible with these prices.
“I realized that based on my savings at the time I could not do that, so I left and went to my uncle’s house. I felt guilty because I was able to leave that situation when there were maybe many other kids who could not just leave,” Dabel said.
Another major complaint by students is the lack of dining options available during school breaks.
“While a few places remain open with limited hours during Thanksgiving and spring breaks, there’s a significant limitation during winter break,” Bekzod Kimsanboev, a junior computer science major, said. “As a result, students in the dorms are reliant on the single kitchen available in their respective halls.”
One of the main problems with providing affordable meals to students is the university’s contract with Aramark to provide dining services. Aramark itself is not causing the issues, but because of the additional cost of contracting out dining services, paying to staff extra hours when only a few students stay is not cost-effective for the school.
“To keep all locations open all of the time, even at times there are very few or no customers would increase the cost to students and to the university, and we want to make sure to keep those costs as low as we can for our door rates and meal plan pricing,” Tidwell said.
Still, getting to dining halls during their hours of operation can be hard for students to fit into their schedules.
“This past summer I did stay on campus to take classes, and it was rare that I was able to eat on campus. This was because the dining hall had very odd hours, and the hours they were open would be the time I was either in class or at work, and once I had the free time to eat it would be closed,” Jena Brown, a senior exercise major from St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, said.
As an Associated Student Body senator and in other advocacy positions, Dabel has advocated for reforms in housing policy and food insecurity, having experienced these struggles himself since his freshman year. Still, he thinks more could be done.
“I’ve met with people (working for the university), but nothing is being done, and my problem is that there are people who have power to actually do something, but they get to go home and have a nice winter break when they know that there are students on campus who cannot eat,” Dabel said.
One of the ways student advocates have worked to help combat the food insecurity issue is through working with faculty to establish Grove Grocery, a campus food pantry, in 2012. For people who cannot afford to pay the extra costs for dining, Grove Grocery is a free option that is open year-round for anyone in need.
One problem many students have with the Grove Grocery is that, like many food pantries, it is stocked primarily with shelf-stable canned goods, which can be hard to work with for students who do not have as much access to cooking appliances and may instead need a quick meal on the go.
As far as university efforts go, a meal swipe donation and distribution program is in place.
“We also have a meal swipe donation and distribution program. This has been very popular with students in need of meals on campus. We are working on increasing the number of donations, so we can meet the need of students requesting swipes,” Kate Forster, director of advocacy for UMatter, said.