By Skye Frawley
The College has reinstated the meal plan option of meal equivalency: an $8.50 balance every weekday that can be used in retail dining locations on campus. The option resumed at the start of the Fall ‘22 semester. The College also added 100 Campus Town dollars which can be used at several off-campus locations.
Meal equivalency was included in the College’s meal plans up until the Spring 2020 semester but it was removed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Since then, students have been requesting that it be reinstated.
After many discussions between the College’s cabinet and Student Government, a new form of meal equivalency has been reinstated for the 2022 school year with changes from the previous pre-pandemic years.
Students with a 10, 15, or 19 Meals per Week meal plan can use a meal equivalency swipe to cover $8.50 of their meal at certain retail dining locations until 9 p.m. and can be used at T-Dubs from 9 p.m. until 1 a.m., according to Residential Education and Housing. The swipe does not come out of a student's Eickhoff swipes and cannot be used at 1855 Room, Fresh Pride Café, the C-Store or to buy C-Store items at T-Dubs, or to purchase sushi.
Student Government Vice President of Governmental Affairs and sophomore political science major Jared Williams, spoke to the Signal about his role in bringing back meal equivalency. The vice president emphasized that student opinion influences the College’s decisions and points to the power of Student Government to help implement those changes.
“I’m a rising sophomore so I actually didn’t experience meal equivalency myself, which is honestly a testament to how popular it was,” Williams said. “A lot of first year students who I represented as the past freshman class president wanted to see meal equivalency back and we didn't even get to experience it.”
Meal Equivalency has its restrictions, but Vice President Williams pushed to remove the 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. time frame in which meal equivalency was previously offered. Now students can use the Late Night Dining meal period and use their meal equivalency at T-Dubs.
“I think it’s a great alternative for students who do not have a lot of points,” said Tracy Termyna, a junior speech pathology and audiology major. “Eickhoff dining hall does not have many options, especially for people with dietary needs. Now students do not have to stress about running out of points, especially underclassmen who cannot get the meal plan with only points.”
However, there are some downsides to meal equivalency. Besides location restrictions, the $8.50 balance is lost if it is not used during the day. The new meal equivalency also impacted point balances. Students with a Meals per Week plan have fewer points than students who had an Eickhoff swipe meal plan in previous years.
“I love being able to get food from other places than Eickhoff hall using my swipes, but it is unfortunate how much they decreased the number of points you get with a swipe meal plan,” said Pierce Rubenstein, a sophomore mechanical engineering major.
While meal equivalency lowers the amount of points used in a day, some students are still using their points on weekdays.
“[Meal equivalency is] cool, but I feel like $8.50 is not enough for a meal so I’m gonna have to use points anyways,” said Sarah Granholm, a first year music education major.
Students also claim that places like the Library Cafe and the Brower Student Center will be more crowded and have concerns about the potential for longer lines and Covid-19 surges.
“Now we have longer lines everywhere and at all times since meal equivalency goes until 9 p.m.,” Termyna said.
Campus Town dollars, a new addition to the College’s meal plans, are also in effect for the fall semester.
Senior political science major and last year’s Student Government Vice President of Student Services Aamore Richards, explained the rationale behind proposing Campus Town dollars.
“For years students have said how neat it would be to use points in Campus Town,” Richards said. “The key benefit to Campus Town dollars is that it provides access to more dining options around the campus area. It also provides students the ability to use their financial aid to access Campus Town restaurants and tax free meal purchases.”
Every meal plan now comes with a minimum of 100 Campus Town dollars plus a $5 administration fee. According to an email sent out by Residential Education and Housing on July 18, students can choose to add money for a maximum of $300 Campus Town dollars by heading to the MyHousing portal.
In another email on Aug. 30, Sean Stallings, vice president of Student Affairs, explained that “participating merchants [include] Arrooga's, Red Berry, Mexican Mariachi, Yummy Sushi, IndiGrill, and others.”
However, some retailers are still not on the list. Currently, Blazin’ J’s, Insomnia Cookies, and Panera have not agreed to be a part of the Campus Town dollars.
Despite this and the extra charge of $105 to bills, students seem positive about the potential benefits of Campus Town dollars.
“I eat about a quarter of my meals in Campus Town, so being able to get those meals tax free will be good for both me and the stores,” said Rubenstein. “It also encourages people to eat in Campus Town instead of on campus or ordering in.”
Richards also explained her hopes for Campus Town dollars in the future.
“I hope that, as Campus Town expands, incoming businesses will continue to partner with the College,” Richards said. “As a student in general I also hope that strengthening the connection between the College and Campus Town businesses will encourage non-dining facilities located in Campus Town to offer more student deals and packages with acknowledgement of the fact that the College students are a primary consumer group in the Campus Town area.”
Students are hopeful that the meal plan changes will improve the overall dining experience on campus, as well as offer students more eating options.
“On campus food can get old, but being able to use the Campus Town dollars helps feel like you are not having the same food all the time,” said Ellen Norris, a sophomore Biology major, “and it is helpful for people with food and diet restrictions having more options.”