Since its inception, the Socioeconomic Diversity Alliance (SDA) has advocated for the University to address the lack of dining options on Saturday nights. The University justifies the dining hall closures on Saturdays with claims that it enables students to explore the city and build community; however, this ignores the voices and hunger of students who cannot afford to buy food for themselves every Saturday. Because of the efforts of SDA and other organizations, the University introduced the “Saturday Night Social Club,” a mediocre solution to a much bigger problem.
Contrary to popular belief, not everybody on this campus can afford to go out to eat on Saturday nights. A portion of students comes from low-income backgrounds and receives very little, if any, money from home. Some students’ parents don’t have jobs. Some students have to send refunds from their financial aid packages back home so that their families can survive. When these students need something, it is not always a simple phone call away. Hence, when the dining halls close at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, some students go hungry. While the University claims that closing the dining hall on Saturday nights is meant to foster community among undergraduates, the administration refuses to recognize the position low-income students are placed in as a result of this action. These students are also often unable to pay for Saturday night house trips that can sometimes cost up to $20, even with the five-dollar subsidies that RMs offer. Not only does this inadvertently exclude low-income students from taking part in these community-building activities, but it also causes them to face an even more ominous challenge: weekly hunger. While their house goes to Chinatown, the Loop, etc., low-income students are often left on campus by themselves without anywhere to turn for a decent and affordable meal.
One solution that the University has offered to resolve this issue is the allowance of Maroon Dollars given on a quarterly basis to pay for dinner on Saturday. However, this is not an adequate solution, and would limit students to $10 a week. Such limitations would prohibit the student from purchasing other necessities such as school supplies and toiletries and would limit their opportunities to socialize. Coffee dates, a vital component of networking and participating in University life, would have to be sacrificed as well. Realistically, people have to spend money on things other than dinner on Saturday, leaving people hungry still. It is simply not fair to force low-income students to miss out on the experiences that fellow students enjoy, like late-night runs to Midway Mart or Bartmart for snacks or grabbing a coffee after class with a friend. For a community with such a significant focus on unity, this is a blatant inconsistency and is unacceptable.
Recently, the administration devised a compromise that would provide students with a space to socialize and eat on three Saturday nights per quarter. Each dinner offers seats for one hundred students. This does not come close to serving the amount of students who need such a program. Furthermore, this program is poorly advertised, which means that many students who might benefit from it do not know about it. Ultimately, the low-income community is saddled with the same problem: not having adequate dining options on Saturday nights.
While the Saturday Night Social Club is a step in the right direction, there are still seven other Saturdays in the quarter when students are responsible for buying their own dinners. What low-income students really need is simple: to have the dining halls open on Saturday nights.
The administration currently blames insufficient funds for closing the dining halls. However, the University receives hundreds of thousands in donations that could go towards the cost of providing Saturday night dining for students.
The Socioeconomic Diversity Alliance is not satisfied with the University’s effort and demands that the administration do more to address this issue plaguing low-income students’ experiences on campus. We look forward to working with the university to create a more accessible and inclusive dining experience.
Derek Caquelin is a first-year in the College.
Stephanie Diaz is a third-year in the College.
Claire Moore is a second-year in the College.
Kyle Wickham is a second-year in the College.