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We need meal plan exemptions

We need meal plan exemptions

By José Castellanos

Section: Opinions

April 28, 2017

Brandeis is not an inexpensive institution. It perennially ranks as one of the most costly schools in the country, so presumably there would be consideration on behalf of the administration to ensure that students can cut down on costs when needed. However, as of fall 2016, a new requirement was made for all students who live in on-campus housing: All students are now required to have a meal plan. This includes students who live in housing that has kitchens, such as Ridgewood, the Charles River apartments and Foster Mods. However, these areas would have “block” meal plans, which are a set number of meals for the semester at reduced prices. Frankly, this change was completely unnecessary and only imposes an undue burden on many students and their families.

When the change was first announced, no reason was given by the administration to explain the change in policy, though the Brandeis administration is likely to say that it was out of concern for students. In truth, imposing this is an insult to Brandeis students who are capable of culinary competence.

Many students living in spaces with kitchens would actually have to go out of their way to use their obligatory meal plans, when that money could easily go toward buying groceries and making food at a much more reasonable cost. For example, living in a Charles River apartment, the cheapest meal plan I could get is $1,675. In a semester, my grocery costs were roughly $200 for an initial purchase at the beginning of the semester, and $70 every other week afterwards. In a 16-week semester, this comes out to $760 total, nearly $900 less than it would cost for me to get the cheapest meal plan available.

This is extremely problematic when considering the impact that this has on low-income students. To many students, $900 makes a world of a difference, and not having to pay that extra $900 would mean more peace of mind and less stress over being able to afford Brandeis. Then again, this should not be surprising given that Brandeis seems to frequently increase the cost of attendance without much regard for how it may impact its students. Last year’s tuition increase, which was almost universally denounced, included such necessary expenditures as building an outdoor deck for the Stein (which remains closed) and $2 million to renovate East Quad, which has remained largely the same since I came to Brandeis during the fall of 2014.

Furthermore, this robs students of any semblance of freedom in choosing how to feed themselves. If I want to make my own food, which I prefer over eating in a dining hall, I have to add that cost to the $1,675 I spend on a mandatory meal plan that I had no freedom in paying. There seems to be a consistent plan with Brandeis dining and Sodexo’s model of profits at the expense of students. In the past, Sodexo pressured Brandeis into increasing the price of meal plans while decreasing their real value to students (for example, between 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, the 12-meal plan cost increased by roughly $200 while losing $25 in points credit), so it should come as no surprise if they have in fact pressured the administration into protecting their own profits by forcing students into meal plans that many of them don’t require, and that are not economically reasonable for others.

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