Barnard College: Meal Price Hike? Meal Plan Strike.

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The text of this petition has been updated to reflect statements from the administration.

To COO Goldberg, President Beilock, and VP Beltrone:

We, as Barnard students, are stunned and upset that, after hiking tuition prices by 4.5%, Barnard eliminated cheaper options for meal plans, forcing students to have a default minimum of $2,150 per year for a meal plan. This is absolutely outrageous and shows a total disregard for the needs of Barnard students. The increase in prices will not correlate to an improvement in food quality or sanitary conditions. It is only to line Aramark's pockets.

This is the first time Barnard has changed their meal plan structure and pricing since 2010. All price hikes to meal plans before did not exceed $10. Why, then, would Barnard both raise prices in conjunction with a tuition hike while simultaneously failing to inform students of these changes? An ethical university that truly cares for its students would not change the terms of a contract after it is signed, especially when said contract was signed while students were not fully informed of the charges of the 2018-2019 school year. Barnard has no excuse for making these dramatic changes after the contract was signed, and just like students, the administration needs to be held accountable for its greedy, immoral attempt at taking more money from students without their consent.

This is especially important because of the cost of the quad upper class meal plan. For many students, the price of that meal plan last year was already prohibitive. To raise the price this year without informing students before they selected housing is trapping students in a situation they cannot afford. Living in the quad as an upper class student comes with a charge for a mandatory meal plan around $5000. And because Barnard never has enough rooms for students, students living in the quad (by choice or by assignment) are paying a price for something they don't want for a dorm that is in disrepair. In other words, the increased price of this meal plan does not correlate with better food quality, sanitation standards, or a better than average living situation. Many students who chose to live in campus housing with access to their own kitchen did so to avoid eating at the dining halls, and to negate that choice by forcing them to pay for swipes is pure greed.

Furthermore, it shows a total lack of awareness of how food insecurity affects students on campus. There is no justification, explanation, or statement that the administration can make to explain, in VP Beltrone's own words, a meal plan "meant to address student concerns over food insecurity" that does not guarantee two meals a day and is more expensive than ever before. Food insecurity arises because students can't afford to pay for meal plans or food in the area in the first place. In what world does making them pay more money for an unacceptable plan guaranteeing them only one meal a day help solve that problem? Students should be able to purchase a meal plan that fits their needs in a cost effective way; paying for swipes or points that will ultimately get donated is an expense many students can't afford. Though Barnard has said we can "add swipes and points as needed," nothing has been said about whether those fees would be waived for low income/financial aid students. Last year, there were several variations in the cost for meal plans offering different numbers of swipes and points that were all cheaper than this year's base cost. To properly address food insecurity on campus, Barnard must provide a meal plan that is fully covered by financial aid that feeds students not one, but TWO full meals a day. There is absolutely no reason why a student should have to take out a loan to eat at a university that costs $60k a year.

Barnard has also shown a total lack of commitment to improving food quality and health conditions at its dining halls. This year, Hewitt received a B rating (14 violation points) from the Department of Health due to the presence of mice, filth flies, and improper sanitation. The Diana Center and Liz's Place also were cited for the presence of mice in or around food and a failure to properly vermin-proof their facilities. Looking back at the ratings for these dining halls the past three years, this is not a new issue--despite three years of infractions for the same sanitary problems, Barnard has taken no action to improve health standards. Understandably, many students do not wish to eat in dining halls where their food may have been contaminated by mice. Students have also filed complaints about the lack of variety in Hewitt's options as well as the quality of the food itself (search "Aramark" on Columbia Spectator for pieces regarding this topic).

Forcing students to pay for pricey meal plans that will go unused also shows Barnard's ignorance to students with dietary restrictions or other special health requirements. Cross-contamination at dining halls is rampant, and for those with severe allergies, this could be life-threatening. Many students with such allergies choose to cook for themselves, yet Barnard is now insisting they pay for a meal plan that does not adequately support their health to eat in dining halls that will never truly be safe for them to eat in. Students who struggle(d) with eating disorders also have expressed discomfort in eating at dining halls and prefer the freedom cooking for themselves affords. To unnecessarily add to the cost of purchasing food that appropriately addresses different dietary needs is, at best, accidentally ignorant, and, at worst, being intentionally predatory towards vulnerable students without other options.

What has happened in this instance is a stunning combination of Barnard's greed and administrative reluctance to take responsibility for their actions. And, of course, this increase in prices will not solve food insecurity, but worsen it, and will not improve food quality, offerings, and sanitation. When you demand a premium price from students already paying more than they can afford, you must show--in tangible results, NOT over vague email statements--that the product you are forcing them to buy is improving in quality or presentation. It is worth mentioning that last year, Aramark made $185 million dollars domestically. They are not wanting for money, and they are certainly more than able to improve the standards of the food they serve and the conditions their food is kept in. And because points are restricted to use on Barnard's campus, students yet again fall victim to paying for something they cannot use due to the quality and standards at Barnard's dining halls. These meal plan options serve absolutely no one and worsen an already declining quality of student life.


Due to all of these factors, we the undersigned refuse to pay for or opt into a meal plan until Barnard offers cost-effective options that better address students' needs. With base tuition for the 2018-2019 school year costing, at minimum, $65,467, not including the cost of student health insurance, adding an additional $2,150 (at minimum) is absurd. These changes are a slap in the face to students facing food insecurity and all the work they have done to demand a change in their situation. 

Our list of demands is as such:
-better swipe-to-points ratios (for example, last year's 45 meals to 425 points ratio) in MULTIPLE options, not just the Flex 30 plan
-multiple meal plan options below $1000 for students who choose to cook their own meals (yes, this means more than the 400 point/flex 30 plan)
-lower price of the upper class quad meal plan, especially because the increase in cost was not advertised during room selection
-a meal plan covered fully by financial aid that ensures students can receive at least two meals a day from dining halls
-face to face meetings with the ENTIRE student body, not those who are selected for supposed "discussions" with administrators. These meetings, whether surveys or town halls, should exist to adequately gauge current student opinions and feelings on their quality of life. Administrators must confront the consequences of their actions without hiding behind emails and closed doors.
-administrators taking full responsibility for their actions and acknowledging their greed without blaming it on a vague third party--demonstrating that accountability does exist for non-students at this university
-a tangible plan for improving sanitation and food quality at Barnard's dining halls, which should not be relayed through vague email statements, but as a concrete list of the steps Barnard will take that students can see happening. No more behind the scenes improvements that never go anywhere. Administrators must follow through on their promises, and they need to prove it through results we can see. We refuse to eat contaminated, unsanitary, and nutritionally devoid food any longer.


We see through Barnard's motivations: these changes were not designed to benefit anyone or improve the lives of students on campus, but rather to extort more money at an already prohibitively expensive university. It is outrageous, and we will not take this lying down. We demand better, and we DESERVE better. If Barnard administrators truly care about their students, then they must prove it through demonstrative actions. We will not accept empty statements and promises; we will only accept change, and a change we can see in our time left at Barnard.

In light of recent emails sent by VP Beltrone, we'd like to issue a challenge to all administrators: eat for a week at Hewitt and Diana (not Liz's Place), for every single meal. You cannot make such sweeping changes without ever having experienced the current dining situation for yourselves. If there is one thing that is made absolutely clear to you, it should be that the student body is angry, and it will not let you backtrack or slip away from your actions. We demand accountability. If you feel the sentiments of this petition are untrue, then prove us wrong. But you cannot intimidate a student body that is already so mistreated and exploited, and we will no longer allow you to get away with it. We will not back down.

 

 



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