College News

Meal plan, residence hall renovations lead to uneasiness for students, staff

The Associated Students of Madison brought together university housing and dining faculty and campus organization leaders to answer concerns of new meal plan and housing shifts.

Image By: Jon Yoon and Jon Yoon

To alleviate dining and housing concerns, the Associate Students of Madison hosted a town hall to allow leading faculty and students to discuss the meal plan and residence hall renovations Wednesday.

This year, University Housing struggled with limited rooms — often converting dens and study spaces into rooms — to accommodate the largest incoming freshman class in university history. University Housing Director Jeff Novak found that the shifts were “generally well-received” among students, noting the larger rooms and community bathrooms.

Concerns of future enrollment growth accomodations paved the way for discussion on housing accessibility and affordability. If the university continues to see a rise in freshmen each year, they will continue to make renovations to current housing structures, according to Novak.

Not all halls on campus are accessible for those with disabilities, which raised questions of why those halls were not receiving top priority to be renovated.

Novak voiced his support of accessibility throughout all buildings, but noted that the mechanical structures and general volume of residence halls play important roles in the urgency of renovations.

“Balancing out the priorities and the cost to do those — we would like all of our facilities to be accessible,” he said.

The combination of financial concerns that come with affording rising residence hall costs along with the newly-implemented meal plan — which has a base payment of $1,400 — were introduced by Anna Barry, a house fellow on campus, in reference to a new university housing survey.

Novak continued to stress the importance of surveying the students and gauging their needs as housing and dining works together to provide space and opportunity for students to succeed without ongoing concerns of shelter and food.

In the middle of last February, food trays were splayed across Gordon Dining Hall floors, representing the frustrations of inaccessibility for those with dietary, religious and socioeconomic restrictions in UW-Madison’s meal plan for incoming freshmen.

As the semester comes to a close, questions of the meal plans effectiveness — especially for those with restrictions — still hang in the air for Novak and University Dining & Culinary Services Director Peter Testory.

Speaking on her experience having an eating disorder with the dietary options available in dining halls, FH King Programming Director Andrea Seiler cited that close to 20 percent of college students could be considered diagnosed with disordered eating.

She also noted that having to send an email or speak to a stranger — let alone a therapist about these concerns — is not an easy task.

“When I think about the mandatory meal plan and the impact that it can have on close to 20 percent of the students … and the inaccessible nature of the necessity of having to create a interpersonal connection to find your way out of what could be a harmful situation troubles me,” she said.

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