Opinion

Letter to the Editor: Proposed dining plan will unfairly impact students of different economic, religious backgrounds

University Housing has proposed a new dining plan that could be prohibitive for some students. 

Image By: Tommy Yonash

Recently the University released a policy proposal to mandate a $1,400 non-refundable dining hall deposit for incoming freshman living in the dorms. The deposit would only be available for use at campus dining halls and unions and students would make four $350 quarterly deposits. If the funds are not spent before the school year is out, they go to the University and students receive only an email reminder to use the money before it disappears.

Arising out of parental demand for a clearly stated meal plan, concerns about freshmen charging large sums on their Wiscards and a decline in dining hall profits, the plan was proposed as a solution to campus dining issues. While these issues need to be addressed, this initiative is a step backward for the University and will negatively affect students of many religious and economic backgrounds. It will also worsen the overpriced off-campus housing situation and turn away UW applicants because of affordability issues.

“Housing residents will be required to deposit $1,400 in dining dollars,” read the Daily Cardinal headline on Nov. 30. My thumb stopped the screen from its mindless scroll as I feverishly clicked the link. I couldn’t believe it. Fourteen hundred dollars … I thought, would I even have been able to afford that?

My parents and I had worked out a deal. “Listen,” Mom said, “We will pay for part of your tuition and your dorm, but you’re going to need to make $3,000 to cover your food, books and everything else.”

“Deal,” I said.

So, I spent the summer before freshman year under the hot sun at a summer camp and behind the counter of a bar, working two jobs to make the 3K cut. I put in overtime every week and barely made enough. But I did it, and it was my first time with that much money to my name.

I was apprehensive about whether it would be sufficient. I didn’t want to get a job my first year so I could adjust myself with new levels of demand from school and student orgs. I knew I would need to be frugal.

Three years later, I read the Daily Cardinal headline, wondering what freshman year Claire would have done had she been mandated to subtract $1,400 from her $3,000 funds for the year. Would she have made it to the end of the year? Or would she have had to make sacrifices that bit into her friendships, orgs and accomplishments? I wanted to find out. So I dug up some bank statements and a calculator, and here’s what I found:

After the $1,400 withdrawal, I would be left with $1,600. After textbooks ($500 for both semesters) I’d be at $1,100. Take away $20 a month for house activities with my dorm (discounted concerts, a trip to Chicago, DIY art nights, etc.) and I’m left with $930.

Sometimes walking to Dejope causes frostbite, and late-night studying with Cheez-Its and blankets trump dining hall long lines and loud crowds. $20 a month on outside groceries would put my balance at $650. I joined orgs with semester fees, ate out on State Street and bought a few Christmas presents from Art Gecko. After 7 months, I’d be left with $200.

A girl has to wash her hair, brush her teeth and buy cheap foundation from Walgreens. She also has to call an Uber home from the Overture Center because Kronshage is far and buses stop running. She catches the campus bug and has to pound Nyquil and Emergen-C. These personal expenses put my balance at about $130.

Subtract student section football tickets, and we’re at a negative balance of -$58.

Reluctantly, I set my pen down next to the calculator. So I really would not have been able to afford it, I thought. I would have had to make sacrifices. Perhaps I would have had to buy fewer medium roasts from Coffee Bytes or attended fewer concerts, joined fewer orgs, sold more Badger game tickets.

But wait. Pretty soon the cuts begin to affect the core culture of being a Badger. Pretty soon the sacrifices I would have had to make mean not meeting the friends that I call family today. Pretty soon they mean having a date night in Gordon’s and not at Tutto’s because I got an email saying I still had $20 left to spend before it gets handed over to the University.

And hold on, what about the students who didn’t start with $3,000 … or couldn’t? What about the students who need to eat kosher? Or need their meals cooked on pork-free surfaces? Suddenly, living in the dorms is no longer an option because students can’t afford it, or choosing from the available options is just not worth spending $1,400 on.

So, they begin searching for off-campus housing. More students demanding spots in apartments drives up the cost of living near campus. Higher housing costs turns away prospective applicants: Fewer prospective applicants puts quite the dampen on the Wisconsin Idea.

Sure, the average student may give the dining halls and unions $1,400 a year. But not every student does. And if we are to create a welcoming, accepting, inviting campus with options for all economic, religious and dietary backgrounds, then we need to create a meal plan that can attend to all students. Not just the average student.

To tell UW Housing that this plan is not an effective solution to dining options, sign this petition and be a part of the movement. What could you do with $1,400?

Claire VanValkenburg is a junior majoring in journalism. What are your thoughts on the proposed dining plan? Will it impact your decision to live on or off campus? Send any comments, questions, or concerns to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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