By Mili Chizhik
It’s another typical morning at Stern College for Women, and as usual, you’re running late to class. You should probably head straight there, but can’t bear to skip your morning coffee, so you make a gamble and dash to the cafeteria to grab one. Once you’ve reached the cash register and they scan the drink, to your delight, you notice that the prices are lower than you remember — this is the Stern cafeteria after all, notorious for its overpriced food. So you happily hand over your caf card. As you grab the coffee and begin your sprint to class, you barely register that your remaining meal plan balance is suspiciously low, about half of what it should be.
This is a description of the basic routine that students at Stern College for Women have maintained from the beginning of this semester. What many students do not understand is that they are being cheated by the administration and YU Dining Services. Their money is being appropriated, and many students still don’t recognize the situation in which the school has automatically put them in.
In May, before the end of last semester, I submitted the housing application which included meal plan options. I personally chose the reduced plan because it was not only more financially feasible for me, but last year’s plan had been more than enough, so I knew it would be sufficient for the entire year. But at the beginning of the school year, I quickly realized that my financial situation was completely different than it had been the previous year. When I bought my first dinner, my caf card balance appeared to be significantly lower than I had expected it to be, given that this was the first time I had purchased food that semester. The cashier told me to call and confirm my meal plan and mentioned that many students seemed to be equally confused.
After a little searching, I found that YU’s Office of University Operations had sent out an email to the student body describing the new “Yeshiva University Undergraduate Dining Club” and all its so-called “benefits,” including “giving students the greatest degree of convenience, accessibility, and money management on campus.” The cost of the reduced meal plan would be $1,500, out of which $675 would automatically be taken away as a “Membership Fee.” The remaining $825 would be left for the purchase of food throughout the semester. The supposed benefit is that the food at caf stores and cafeterias will not be taxed and will be discounted by 35-40%.
Given this new balance of $825, I wanted to gauge if this amount was indeed sufficient for an entire semester’s worth of food purchases. I found that last year’s spending habits, which had always been sufficient in the past, would deplete my caf card balance by Thanksgiving, a month and a half before the end of the semester. Troubled by this, I subsequently calculated how much I would be able to spend per day given the new balance, and found I was only able to spend a daily average of $11 if I wanted the meal plan to last me until the end of the semester. In the Stern cafeterias, $11 a day would essentially be one regular main dish and two side dishes for lunch, plus a hamburger for dinner. No breakfast. No snacks. No drinks.
The cost of the $675 membership fee is 45% of the original reduced meal plan cost, while the food has only been discounted by 35-40%, leaving a discrepancy of 5-10%. This leaves students, especially ones from out-of-town, at a significant disadvantage.
Many students feel as though they are being cheated out of their money and feel very strongly about the need for a change. Numerous students say that they should have been informed in advance of the changes in the new meal plan (and not four days before the start of the school year) and also should have been given a choice about whether to be a member in the “Dining Club.”
After sending out a petition (access to petition here) to many students in YC and Stern, asking for signatures of those who oppose the new plan, signatures piled in. Within the first two hours, approximately 150 students had signed it, along with comments relaying their thoughts on the new meal plan. One out-of-town sophomore in Stern wrote, “This is one of the most outrageous systems I have ever seen YU put in place.” Another student wrote, “Please let me eat normally again.” The responses are extraordinary and reflect frustrations felt across the entire student body. I instantly knew from the responses that a nerve had been hit amongst the student body and that something must be done. Once the petition received 249 signatures, I decided to email it to the administration. Shortly after, the administration responded to my email saying that they would get back to me once they reviewed the material with the directors of Dining Services.
A student’s primary concern at YU should be their classes and social affairs. A student should not have to worry about whether they will be able to afford food for the day. This issue cannot be left alone and must be resolved immediately and transparently.