As students gear up for midterms, they are more in need of study fuel than ever. But figuring out what to eat and where can prove to be a major challenge on this campus. There are limited options for food on campus, and the nature of the Vassar meal plan limits them further.
We at The Miscellany News advocate for more late-night food options for students. We feel that the administration’s dining decisions on campus reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the needs of students: students need substantive meals late into the evening and, often a byproduct of their choices being limited by the meal plan, need more food options which accept meal swipes.
After 8:30 pm, students’ options are limited to UpC and Matthew’s Bean, only one of which offers substantive food. Further, only UpC and the ACDC offer anything in exchange for meal swipes, which constitute the majority of students’ meal plans. If students run out of their allotted dining bucks before the end of the semester, their dining options are limited during the day. Assuming that the average campus meal costs about $12.50 (according to the meal plan FAQs) then the standard meal plan accounts for about 33 meals to come from dining bucks and 151 to come from meal swipes. Students have more than four times as many meals from swipes than dining bucks, yet after 8:30 pm, two-thirds of their options are dining bucks-only.
The number of dining location options and hours of those options don’t make sense in relation to the ability of students to purchase food from those locations with their meal plan—if they run out of dining bucks and need to eat at the Retreat, their only option is to purchase food out of pocket. Why is there no meal swipe conversion system? Similar colleges offer more dynamic options: Bard College allows for the conversion of dining hall meal swipes to declining balance at other on-campus locations and Wesleyan University allows students to choose the proportion of meal swipes to declining balance in their meal plan for the same price.
Why does Vassar limit students’ food options both financially and in terms of hours? Competitor’s for students dollars find that it makes business sense for them to remain open later—Bacio’s after-midnight hours apply only during Vassar’s academic year, showing their understanding of student’s differing schedules, and they reap the benefit of students’ dollars which otherwise could have been spent on campus.
Students were pleased to hear in a VSA forum with Marianne Begemann that the space under the College Center would be renovated to include additional food options, yet these renovations have been brought to a halt. The student-run system of Matthew’s Bean is popular, yet it is small and limited in its offerings. Students have long advocated for a better meal plan system and more food options, but neither the VSA nor the administration have yet to implement a feasible solution—both “Late Night at the Deece” and “Late Night at the Retreat” seem to have been abandoned.
As it stands, the administration is not in a position to expand dining options for students. In the same VSA forum, Begeman explained that to her, students are already spending as much as they are willing to spend on food. As a result, the College isn’t looking to expand food options, just to shift them. If students are looking for a wider variety of dining options and an expanded schedule of hours, we at The Miscellany News believe we should consider the possibilities of non-administrative alternatives.
One alternative, brought up at the VSA forum, would be to take the format of Matthew’s Bean and replicate it as a more substantial cafe. The small coffee shop was funded through a student gift and it continues to be largely student-run. Why not create a cafe space with the same model? Every year, the VSA encounters difficulties in spending the enormous sum of money that it gets from students. Putting some of those funds toward a food space on campus would allow students to circumvent an administration that seems reluctant to address the heart of student dining concerns.
This proposal would solve another key issue many have with campus dining. Where people are willing to go to get food, and whether or not they are willing to stay, is intrinsically linked to the spaces in which food is being offered. One of the reasons for the intended relocation of UpC is because the administration believes that the third floor of the Students’ Building is an undesirable location for hanging out and studying. Whether or not you agree with this idea, it is important to remember that the administration is not the biggest patron of UpC. With a student-driven food option, students could decide what location would be best for their own dining experiences.
Though we commend the efforts the College has made to cater their food services to the needs of students, we at the Miscellany News believe that the administration has the wrong understanding of how and why people purchase food on campus. The College should actively work to expand both dining options and dining hours but if it can’t, students should take up the charge and create a space that serves their needs.