Movement to Liberate Dining Dollars Takes First Step

Many students struggle with balancing their competing desire to eat off campus and support local dining options with their lack of pocket money. This issue is intensified for those with food allergies, dietary restrictions or just a simple lack of sufficient dining options.

In response to these issues, a group of students that are a part of the Albers Undergraduate Leadership Program have recently spearheaded a movement to liberate Seattle University dining dollars—more specifically, they want students to have more freedom in how their meal plan money is spent.

With the change, students hope to use a portion of their meal plan money off campus at local restaurants and grocery stores.

The possible change would allow students to have some freedom in where they eat, as well as avoid some of the long lines students sometimes endure for food on campus.

Freshmen Samantha Henry and Grace Jovanovic are both part of the group working towards liberating student dining dollars. They acknowledge that Bon Appétit, Seattle University’s current food services company gives students a variety in food, but sometimes it lacks in efficiency.

“Some of the main issues were sort of addressing…is the cafés are sort of lacking in efficiency, so you wait in an hour and half line for pasta, that’s totally not cool where you could just go off campus at a restaurant,”
Henry said.

Robert Schwartz, the associate vice president for facilities says that there is a study going on to enhance
food services.

“I think obviously the lines at Cherry Street are an issue,” Schwartz said.

In addition to avoiding long lines, using meal plan money off campus will allow students with dietary restriction to have a greater variety in food.

Barbara Ruiz is a freshman international student from Bolivia. She is vegan and explained that her eating habits have changed a lot since she started college. Food like tofu was not available back home, but because she was eating a lot of vegetables and vegan options at Seattle U, she ran out of meal plan money quickly.

Using her meal plan money off campus would allow her to still eat healthily but affordably.

“I would be able to eat healthier,” Ruiz said. “I’ve been eating non healthy food because it’s cheaper because you have to weigh all your food so that’s really expensive.”

The change would help students like Ruiz and would allow students to experience all the amazing eatery Seattle has to offer.

“Part of why I enjoy Seattle so much is because the restaurants are so fun,” Henry said.“Growing up in my family it was such a big thing that whenever we do something you go to a nice restaurant like that’s just part of my thing. I enjoy being a foodie. Personally, I just wanted to get off campus and not have to pay out of pocket money.”

However, both Henry and Jovanovic explained that the process of eventually liberating the dining dollar is going to take some time, and many changes.

Right now the group is at the beginning of the process. Before any changes can be implemented they must first meet with the information technology department and continue meeting with Seattle U’s administration and Bon Appétit and see how feasible this change would be.

There are many details to figure out, and many people to work with for the meal plans to change. Currently all first and second year students who live on campus are required to have a meal plan.

If the dining dollars are used off campus, administration would need to decide to what extent students would be allowed to spend off campus while still making sure Bon Appétit remains profitable.

“I mean we complain a lot about how expensive the meal plans are but after kind of reviewing things we see why they are as expensive as they are, and how much it really costs to run operations here and potentially how implementing this can really affect the livelihood of the people that work for Bon Appétit,” Jovanovic said. “That’s why we’re really struggling so much to get the nitty gritty details down… to have this go in a positive direction where it benefits students and Bon Appétit and not essentially harm the company.”

If the dining dollars were implemented, Henry and Jovanovic would expect an overhead fee charge for the costly change.

For the change to happen the team is relying on student support. Over the past few months they have created a Facebook page, which has close to 400 likes, made petitions and have recently created an online survey. The more student support they have, the more they can present to Seattle U’s administration and Bon Appétit in working together to better accommodate the students.

“The survey gives us a lot of information,” Jovanovic said. “Background information on what meal plan you have currently…from this if you’ve had personal concerns you’d want to express that we can advocate for in our process of getting this done.”

Henry and Jovanovic hope to continue the conversation throughout the next school year and eventually launch a pilot program.

“Eventually [we plan to] have some sort of a pilot program maybe we start at a certain number of dollars off campus and maybe we can negotiate if it should be increased or decreased,” Henry said. “We are confident that keeping with the project that it’ll eventually go through.”

For now, it will be more meetings and continuing to contemplate all of the option in order to see if liberating dining dollars could happen.