October 19, 2007

The Freshman 4,866

Being forced to eat bad dorm food in college shouldn’t have to be a rite of passage.

While the quality of dining at the U of C is debatable, the current policy of forcing students to pay for more University dining than they need is misguided.

Every first-year student is forced to shell out $4,866 annually for a freshman meal plan. Diners at B-J or Pierce know that the not-particularly-flexible “Flexible Freshman” plan is a joke; the vast majority of students end the quarter with dozens of meals left over. Equally ludicrous is the end-of-quarter circus at Bartlett in which students with excess points feel compelled to buy whatever they can, be it bottles of Aquafina or basket loads of oranges.

In an attempt to make the best of the obligatory plan, many students follow a dining tradition in which first-years swipe hungry upperclassmen in for meals—and expect the same from the next year’s batch of first-years. It’s perfectly understandable that students play this game given that they don’t have many other options, but it’s also downright silly that they have to play this game in the first place. First-years should have a flexible meal plan that provides them with what they want to eat: no more, no less.

And the problems don’t end after first year. The Housing Office’s current policy of mandating that any upperclassman who lives in housing be on a meal plan is similarly wrongheaded. This rule forces students to fork over either $2,289 or $3,297 annually (depending on their dorm), whether they like it or not. The rationale is that making students eat at the dining hall fosters house community, but the requirement actually discourages students from staying in housing if they would prefer to dine off-campus or cook their own meals.

The guiding principle for the Housing Office should be student autonomy; we’re all old enough to make our own decisions on how we live, and, yes, that includes decisions on what we eat.