Food Security Hunger Initiative

Opinion columnist Tom Riggs argues that fall scholarship hall dining plans fall short of providing students with the affordability and freedom of choice presented in years past.

Opinion

Infuriating. Non-sensible. Egregious. Appalling. All of these words could be used to describe the new dining policy that University of Kansas Student Housing has implemented for its scholarship halls.

This plan forbids 10 of the University’s 12 scholarship halls from storing or managing their own food and replaces the traditional scholarship hall meal plan with the Blue Flex Meal Plan, which requires them to walk to dining halls each time they want to eat. 

“I would think that any fool could see that ‘schol hall’ dining is safer than the dining hall,”  said Leo Praderas, a returning resident and incumbent Vice President of Stephenson Scholarship Hall.

Although there is logic in Student Housing’s desire to tinker with the food system in order to make it safer, the new plan that has been put into place is indefensible for three key reasons:

1) The plan actually increases the likelihood of the coronavirus’ spread.

2) It is not cost-effective and unfair to many scholarship hall residents.

3) It is not sensitive to student needs. 

Thus, a superior alternative would be to revert to the old system in which each hall would manage its own food in-house, with the addition of a few minor tweaks such as limited kitchen capacity and stricter cleaning routines.

It is not difficult to imagine why the new plan put into place by student housing could lead to the spread of the coronavirus. Instructing people from 10 different buildings to gather to obtain food in one or two dining halls will result in larger crowds, which is unnecessarily hazardous. 

Even if the dining halls were to prohibit dining-in and only provide food to-go, the lines that would form would be tremendously long and would be more dangerous than eating in a kitchen that is shared by only the people of its building. 

The plan’s lack of cost-effectiveness for scholarship hall students is also apparent. 

“So they decrease the amount of meals per week and don’t have constant access to food and (the) price stays the same,” said Nathan Leiter, a University graduate and former scholarship hall resident.

KU Dining describes the Blue Flex Meal Plan as ideal for students who eat “some meals on campus,” which makes it seem a questionable choice for students who have already paid to eat all meals on campus. 

Moreover, the plan only provides students with meals and only when they are willing to wait in line, which means that the students impacted by this plan will no longer be able to snack freely the way they were under the traditional scholarship hall food system. Previously, the Food Board Manager of each hall was required to keep refreshments available for all residents. 

The way in which scholarship hall students have been twisted into receiving less food for the same amount of money is only made worse by the fact that the scholarship halls are marketed to prospective students as “affordable housing” with “a lower housing rate.” scholarship halls are home to many students who are in a state of financial need. 

Lastly, the proposed plan is not sensitive to the needs of students. It requires students to wait in long lines several times per day, which is very inconvenient for many residents who are very busy or who have only short periods of time to eat between classes. The plan is impersonal enough that it will not attend to all dietary needs and could leave students with dietary restrictions with no options.

While these three problems are all severe in magnitude, they can all be fixed rather simply. Reverting to the traditional system in which each of the halls’ culinary needs is controlled by a Food Board Manager while limiting the number of residents allowed in the kitchen and implementing a strict cleaning routine would be the ideal solution. 

This would limit meal gatherings to a small number of people and prevent large crowds or lines from forming at dining halls, therefore reducing the spread of the coronavirus on campus.

Furthermore, scholarship hall residents would get to receive the amount of food that they paid for. This traditional plan allows meals to be acquired much more rapidly (with no walking or waiting in line) and also allows the sensitive dining needs that some students have to be tended to by a Food Board Manager, whose job is to “ensure that all dietary needs are appropriately met.”

Given all of these clear flaws of the new food plan, it is understandable that several would-be scholarship hall residents may cancel their contracts in order to avoid extra COVID-19 endangerment, price gouging and lifestyle issues.

However, if Student Housing were to rescind new plan and replace it with a slightly tweaked version of the traditional scholarship hall food plan they could save all of these residents from the scourge of problems brought about by this plan.

Tom Riggs is a senior from Lawrence studying English, history and Spanish.