Georgetown’s new meal plan requirement for all on-campus students is a clear, extractive cash grab that, due to deep flaws in the school’s dining system, will not bring about the healthy eating culture it claims to promote. In order to treat students fairly and respect dietary autonomy, the university must roll back the meal plan requirement for upperclassmen—at the very minimum—and reintroduce lower-tier block plans for all students.
On June 24, Provost Bob Groves and Vice President Geoff Chatas sent an email to the student body outlining a new meal plan requirement for the upcoming semester. First-years and sophomores living on campus will now be required to pay at least $3260 for the “All Access 7 $200 Flex” plan, juniors will pay at least $2978 for the “14 Weekly $250 Flex,” and seniors at least $1614 for the “7 Weekly + $250 Flex.”
The university eliminated lower tiered meal plan options, leaving hundreds of students with a higher price tag than they would have selected. Compared with meal requirements before COVID-19, first-years and sophomores will respectively pay $253 and $760 more in minimum meal plan costs for the semester. Juniors and seniors, who were previously not required to purchase a meal plan at all, will now be required to pay a minimum of $2978 and $1614, respectively.
Priced around $13 per meal swipe, Georgetown’s dining plans are far more expensive than eating out or cooking at home. In a social media poll conducted by the Voice, 90 percent of the 114 student respondents opposed the meal plan requirement, and 66 percent said that it negatively impacted their financial situations.
In forcing students with on-campus kitchens to purchase a plan while eliminating more affordable options, the university has financially endangered its most economically vulnerable population with a surprise policy change. The meal plan requirement was announced after housing selection ended, removing the option of choice for on-campus seniors who might have opted to live off-campus if they knew about the gratuitous meal fees earlier. Moreover, students who need campus housing are disproportionately first-generation and low-income, especially compared to those who have the ability to pay for neighborhood housing.
Although Groves and Chatas claimed in their email that the All Access 7+ $200 Flex will be included in the budgeted Cost of Attendance, we have already witnessed how the university shifts around and even lowers financial aid packages.
This ties back to a recurring theme: lower-income students are disproportionately impacted by the university’s schemes to procure undergraduate dollars. From slashing aid to raising the price of summer stability housing, Georgetown seeks to make up for revenue lost during the pandemic by forcing students and workers to bear the burden.
Each student only has a finite amount of money for dining—few students can afford to pay for both a meal plan and additional groceries. The mandatory meal plan, then, constitutes a loss of dietary autonomy that upperclassmen undoubtedly should have access to: by the time Hoyas become second-years, they are more than well-aware of their own dietary needs and how to meet them at Georgetown. When the meal plan requirement is intended to “support and promote a healthy living and learning community,” restricting student choice with a forced meal plan does not foster a healthier eating culture.
Part of why the meal plan requirement will not achieve its primary goal is Leo’s operational structure. For one, the dining halls at Georgetown have notoriously skinny hours. Traditionally, dinner service downstairs at Table at Leo’s (where the most inclusive dining options are housed) ends pretty sharply at 8 p.m. No dining hall at Georgetown is open to students after 10 p.m. For students with evening courses (with non-negotiable times) and/or cultural backgrounds where eating an early dinner is abnormal, the meal plan requirement may create a routine where students forego dinner entirely.
To force students’ hands against such a rigid schedule is not going to make students eat healthier when class and extracurricular schedules create their own non-negotiable limitations.
Furthermore, Georgetown integrating Asian, Mexican and Mediterranean food styles into upstairs Leo’s as well as the general menu at Table at Leo’s was intended to make Leo’s more culturally accessible. However, culinary authenticity has rarely been reached, so why push students with kitchens to consume pastiched versions of meals they can cook themselves on stovetops readily available to them? Moreover, culinary cultures are extraordinarily diverse and many students continue to not see their traditions represented at Leo’s—a need that would easily be solved by preserving students’ financial flexibility to cook for themselves.
For students with dietary restrictions—for medical, religious, or other personal reasons—the lack of tiered meal plan options is especially jarring. Students who require exemptions or accommodations do not always receive them after a drawn out process, and those who do won’t always feel their needs are actually met. A number of Muslim students, for example, have repeatedly noted difficulty in receiving proper halal accommodations and seeing genuine avoidance of cross-contamination. Even when accommodations are delivered, they curb student choice: there might only be a few options for these students to consume. It is unfair that these students pay the same rate as those who have a full range of food options.
With the surging delta and lambda COVID-19 variants, it is concerning that the meal plan requirement also fails on a COVID-19 protection dimension. While the university has previously framed the meal plan requirement for on-campus students as a COVID-safety measure, channeling more students into one main dining hall does not reduce the chance of on-campus disease transmission. It would actually be safer for upperclass students to be able to cook in their own kitchens where exposure to others is limited.
At the end of the day, the meal plan requirement is a blatant measure by the university to make money. The university has tried to sell its plan to students as a way to promote healthy eating on campus, but the move does just the opposite: It financially strains food budgets, prescribes inflexible eating schedules, violates on dietary autonomy, denies cultural preference, complicates religious practice, and increases the spread of the coronavirus. Reinstituting the former lower-tiered block plans is just the first step towards making Georgetown a truly healthier place to live and eat.