Update: Since the composition of this article, both cafeterias offer free 8-oz cups of water. Larger cups, though, are still 50 cents.
During my first semester on campus, I was filling up my water bottle in the 215 Lexington building when I overheard a girl say to her friend, “I can’t believe she’s actually going to drink that.” I assumed this girl was just high-maintenance and didn’t really give it any thought because I had always trusted and drank NYC tap water. However, I learned the hard way that I misjudged my peer. The water was atrocious; I had to spit it out mid-sip. I soon realized that in order to stay hydrated in Stern there were two options, neither of which included drinking from the water fountains.
Option one is that students can buy water bottles from the caf or vending machines. Option two, alternately labeled the cheaper option, is to get a cup of water from the caf. Although the water in the caf is free tap water–just like the Stern water fountains–it tastes much better and is actually safe to drink. Over my time at Stern, I noticed that it was becoming increasingly more common for girls to bring cups of water to class since students don’t want to spend $2.00 on a 16.9-oz. water bottle.
But, this came to a halt just a few weeks ago. In a deceptive move, the Lexington 215 caf began charging 50 cents per cup of tap water. They realized that students were relying on the cups of water from the caf, and seemingly decided to make a profit from it. Being that the water fountains aren’t suitable to drink from, this has left students without access to free drinking water.
As a result, the Stern Facebook group blew up in a fury. Many students left disapproving comments on a thread rebuking the slimy move made by food services. The activity in the Facebook group was so remarkable that one of my classmates began reading the comments aloud to our class. In one of the comments, a student revealed that although she knows it’s a maarat ayin issue, she went to a non-kosher restaurant nearby to get a free cup of ice water.
While this was one way to approach the issue, other students wanted to come up with more practical, convenient alternatives to paying the 50-cent fee. In an attempt to continue getting free drinking water from the caf, Shayna Michalowski, SCW ‘18, asked one of the caf employees if she could get around the 50 cent fee if she brought her own cup. To her dismay, Shayna was told that she would be charged anyways. The caf is not charging for cups she was told, but for the ice and water itself.
However, this response to Shayna was completely contradicted by the response the caf employees gave me when asked about the sudden charge for water. The caf employees explained that it’s not the water they are charging for, rather, it’s the new Dunkin Donuts cups that the caf is using that they are charging for.
If this is the case and what they told Shayna about bringing her own cup was false, there is not much of an issue here. Students will bring their own cups and receive complimentary water– which is how it should be.
However, if the policy is that the charge is not just for the Dunkin Donuts cup but for water, then there is a serious issue that runs consistent with many issues students have been encountering with food services at the Beren campus in general. As per the suspicions mentioned earlier in the article, this line of action would indicate that the cafeteria is finding a way to take advantage of students and charge them more money. In the past two years, students have seen a major decrease in the amount that money can buy them in the cafeteria. Prices have risen, and less options are provided. For example, the sushi counter at 215 Lexington no longer offers the option to order sushi platters, clearly a response to the realization that students ordered sushi platters towards the end of the semester to use up their enormous amount of leftover cafeteria money.
Along those lines, there is an issue that students cannot choose lower payment plans for their cafeteria cards than those offered. As a result, many students are left with hundreds of dollars on their caf cards by the end of the semester/year. While this is not an issue for all–there are many students who use theirs up–students who know they will not be using up the lowest payment plan should be given an alternate option. The current system is truly taking advantage of students.
The incidents revolving around charging for water are really the last straw on the camel’s back. While students have been feeling as though they were being taking advantage of for quite some time, this validates these feelings even more so.
There are so many stores across the United States that offer free cups of water upon request. While the cafeteria is not Starbucks and does not have the same ability to give out things for free, water surely does not break the bank for them–they can just turn on their faucet, no real cost added.
If the water fountains in the Stern buildings were functional and served clean water this would be a non-issue. However, to have the school keep the water fountains dirty and then charge for cups of water in the caf is really slimy. It seems as though they are profiting off of not having clean water accessible in the water fountains and charging for cups of water in the cafeteria.
This is not the way any institution should act–it completely goes against any moral compass. However, for a Jewish institution to be acting in this way is especially despicable and a real Chilul Hashem. I hope that the school will realize the fault of their actions and either fix the water fountains (an action that should have been taken years ago), or start giving out water again for free in the cafeteria. Until this action is taken, the school will be continuing to show and teach its students how to run a business that is not based on morals and takes advantage of its customers instead.