University of Kansas students living in scholarship halls can no longer cook food in hall kitchens following a new dining policy implemented by Student Housing June 25.
The plan does not allow 10 of KU’s 12 scholarship halls to store or oversee their own food, instead replacing traditional scholarship hall dining with the Blue Flex Meal Plan. This meal plan requires residents to walk to and from the dining halls for meals. The nearest residential dining hall is Gertrude Sellards Pearson Hall, which is about a 10 to 15 minute walk from most scholarship halls.
“Now, I have to set aside about an hour to go walk over to wherever I want to eat, wait in line to get my food, and either eat there or walk back [to my hall],” said Vanessa Boese, a sophomore from Metairie, Louisiana.
Scholarship hall residents typically have lunch or dinner shifts that require them to cook enough food for the entire hall and to thoroughly clean the kitchen after each use.
KU decided to suspend the food management program for the entire fall semester due to the coronavirus. Even though scholarship hall residents are now on a KU meal plan, which is usually much more expensive than a scholarship hall plan, they are still paying the traditional scholarship hall meal plan rate of $2,341 — over $1,000 less than the cheapest KU meal plan.
KU Housing’s reasoning for altering the food system was initially to make the halls safer for residents. Residents said they found multiple flaws in the system.
Payton Bilgere, a sophomore from Mansfield, Texas, Boese and other residents across the scholarship hall community proposed multiple alternatives to housing but were inevitably shot down.
The Blue Flex Meal Plan also has some students worried they will run out of dining dollars before the end of the semester as it is intended for “some meals on campus,” according to the KU Dining website.
Before the new plan was implemented, scholarship hall residents were able to snack freely under their traditional meal plans. The food board manager was required to keep the hall food stocked and stored properly.
“Financially, I think we’re getting the short end of the stick,” Bilgere said. “Our traditional plan costs less and we were able to feed ourselves better.”
Jay Clements, a freshman from St. Louis living in Douthart Scholarship Hall, said she’s more worried about contracting the coronavirus at GSP than eating dinner at Douthart.
“It’s definitely stressful," Clements said. "Going [to dining halls] means we’d be around a lot more people than if it were just our hall."
KU Director of Dining Services Jim Schilling said on-campus student traffic in the dining halls has dramatically decreased this year.
“Currently, we aren’t that high both from a volume needs standpoint and an employment standpoint,” Schilling said. “Typically we would have somewhere between 12-15,000 transactions across campus a day, we’re at about 7,000 this semester so things are definitely down.”
Despite the mix of scholarship hall residents and regular housing residents, Schilling said dining has maintained proper food-safety protocols and has been effective in controlling COVID-19 through increased sanitizing of eating areas.
Along with their safety concerns, scholarship hall residents said the community aspect has subtly dissolved. Boese said she has not been able to meet a lot of the new residents in Sellards Hall since hall meetings are also via Zoom this semester.
“I understand why we can’t eat together — it would be a moment of taking off our masks and we’d mostly likely be pretty close to someone else while eating,” Boese said. “But the thing I don't get is to go send us off to a cafeteria that has had so many other halls going in and out of it. It’s kind of hypocritical.”