With all the dining halls on campus closed during fall break two weeks ago, twin sisters Ananda and India Gonzalez, CC ’16, ended up eating at the cheapest diners in the area, sometimes choosing to eat two instead of three meals a day to save money.
“It’s ridiculous,” Ananda Gonzalez said. “It’s not fair to our wallets. We’re college students who can’t always pay extra for food.”
Though the sisters won’t be around during Thanksgiving, many students who plan on remaining on campus are wondering where they will be able to eat this weekend.
Aubrey Alston, SEAS ’16, started an online petition in advance of fall break asking the administration to keep some dining halls open. The petition has received 60 signatures, largely from first-years.
“The current policies of Columbia Dining subject these students to undue burden,” Alston said.
“What are you supposed to do if you’re staying?” Brit Byrd, CC ’15, said. “I’m sure there are students who aren’t comfortable paying for a meal every day in this neighborhood for three days.”
But according to Vicki Dunn, executive director for Columbia Dining, keeping dining halls open during fall break, Thanksgiving, and spring break could increase meal plan costs for all students by an estimated 7 percent to cover operating and labor costs.
“When asked about operating dining during breaks, most students were not interested,” Dunn said in an email. She added that when Butler Café was open for part of fall break, there were only 200 customers per day, compared to about 2,000 during usual hours.
Columbia College Student Council representative Peter Bailinson, CC ’16 and a Spectator development associate, said that students on financial aid are more likely to be unable to afford to travel home for breaks.
“Many of the students here over break are less likely to have the disposable income needed to get expensive food here in New York,” he said. “Some sort of stipulation could be made for these people who are on aid.”
However, Bailinson said he realizes keeping the dining halls open during breaks is not feasible because of the cost.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Dunn said Flex was introduced as a way to allow students to eat off campus without directly impacting their wallets. However, Flex is charged to students’ accounts on top of meal plan costs.
“I don’t really use Flex … I end up using card or cash,” Theo Buchsbaum, CC ’14, said. “My allowance didn’t account for that.”
Bailinson said Flex is “great for students that are able to get financial help from their parents, but we’re not all that fortunate.” He said he is interested in an agreement with the financial aid office to introduce a Flex component into grants.
“We think that this could be a real solution that’s really helping some students who just can’t leave campus,” he said.
Harvard, Yale, and Cornell all have dining halls that are open for breaks. Dining plans at those schools, however, are between 10 percent and 25 percent more expensive than Columbia plans, Dunn said.
In the meantime, students say more advance notice about dining hall closures would help them plan their meals better. During his first year, “I came to fall break being half surprised,” Buchsbaum said.
“It’d be better if they made it known that the dining halls wouldn’t be open,” he said.
Bailinson said CCSC used Facebook and emails to inform students, but “we can’t be in contact with everyone,” he said. He said that the dining staff was also busy before fall break to prepare for Hurricane Sandy.
Over Thanksgiving, some students might be using the closure to explore the diverse culinary options of New York City.
“It gives us an opportunity to go out into the city and find other places to eat,” Leslie Ayuk-Takor, CC ’16, said. “I don’t think it’s that big a deal, actually.”