News | Student Life

Commuters raise meal plan concerns

A new required meal plan at Barnard ignores the needs of commuters, according to some students who ride the subway to campus every day.

Administrators in March announced that starting in the fall, all students must purchase a meal plan. Previously, only first-year residents and students living in the Quad were required to have some form of a meal plan.

In an effort to address student concerns—which first surfaced in December when Barnard housing leaked the possibility of this new plan—Barnard Dean Dorothy Denburg and Chief Operating Officer Gregory Brown met with a task force of 12 students: six from Barnard’s Student Government Association and six from the general student body, including one who self-identified as having allergies and one commuter student. After the students made recommendations to Denburg and Brown, they announced a revised meal plan program that administrators say will offer students more options.

Commuter students, who make up roughly 1 percent of the student population, will be required to purchase a meal plan as well, though only the “convenience plan,” which costs $300 a semester.

Some commuters though have said that being forced to choose from one of several meal plan options may pose difficulties, while administrators argue that the new plan includes viable options for these students that will help better integrate them into campus life.

“We’re assuming that they would select the ‘convenience plan,’ which is the most minimal requirement,” Denburg said. “The only people required to be on the unlimited are first-years, which represents no change.”

But some students called the requirement unfair for those who spend most of their time off-campus.

“It doesn’t make sense for people who are living at home—who are probably on campus between the hours of nine and five—to be forced to take it,” commuter student Nyimasita Aisha Kanuteh, BC ’12, said, adding, though, that it doesn’t affect her personally, since she would have purchased a plan anyway. “We have disadvantages as commuters as it is, and then we’re forced to fork out money on meals that we don’t need.”

Mariya Meshcheryakova, BC ’12, echoed these frustrations, saying, “A commuter student can live an hour and a half away and still be expected to eat the same number of meals on campus. ... First year, I was commuting three hours a day, working 15 hours a week, and on campus for two meals a day—therefore two meals a week.”

Task force member Mercedes Mulford, BC ’11 and president of Skip Stop, the commuter organization at Barnard, said, “I personally don’t really like the idea that commuters have to be on the meal plan.” Mulford raised these concerns to administrators at task force meetings, she said.

Denburg, who was a commuter student when she attended Barnard, said she understands the concerns of commuters and feels that the meal plan requirement does in fact take their needs into account.

“I commuted for more than five semesters, so I’m very sensitive to both the lifestyles and special considerations of commuter students,” Denburg said. “By making this plan flexible and leaving commuters at a points program, they will actually be able to, for the first time, access the Quad—not as an interloper, but as a fully vested member of the community.”

But Meshcheryakova said she doesn’t need a meal plan to help integrate her into the campus community. “I spend plenty of time with friends, but it certainly wasn’t bonding over dining hall meals.”
She also questioned the administration’s motives, arguing that they include commuter students only when it helps them accomplish their goals.

“When it comes to inclusion as an opportunity to increase costs for students, then it [inclusion of commuters] becomes an issue,” she said. “Inclusion of commuters only matters to them when it’s convenient.”

Mulford, though, said that she was not pleased with the outcome, but understood Denburg’s reasoning.

“She felt that commuters were excluded from the dining hall,” she said. “She doesn’t want current commuters to feel the way she felt.”

Mulford added that she was pleased with the administration’s openness about the financial component of the plan after the meal plan requirement was proposed. “I actually respect it a lot that they’ve conceded that [financial component],” she said.

“I am very pleased that the points purchased by commuters can be used in the Hewitt dining room,” Ani Bournoutian, Barnard’s dean for transfer student services, international students, and commuter advising, wrote in an email. “I think that this will help commuters feel part of the community in a way that they have not previously.”

Ultimately, Kanuteh said, the meal plan debate speaks to larger problems of the administration’s consideration of commuters. “We are separate, and you can’t acknowledge the needs of a group if you don’t acknowledge their existence.”

madina.toure@columbiaspectator.com

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