There are about seven weeks remaining in the semester. For some students, this near-halfway mark triggers a stress reflex to midterms, looming final projects, and all the assignments they should have finished over the weekend that are now due in the coming days. For most others, the halfway mark indicates the time to check their dwindling Wesleyan accounts and watch as the number of remaining meals declines. We stare in horror as our point balances inch toward zero, falling like the yellowed leaves on Wesleyan’s trees. In other words, this halfway point brings about a period of reflection: Is there a way I could have rationed my swipes more effectively? Should I not be buying four coffees a day? But this reflection also raises the possibility that Wesleyan’s meal plan options are simply not enough to sustain a student for the whole semester.
In order to analyze the meal plan, it is necessary to have a basic understanding of Wesleyan’s meal system. It has two main components: meals and points. Meal swipes are primarily used in the two dining halls on campus, Summerfields and Usdan. Students use points at various restaurants and cafes on campus. Points can also be used to pay for meals. A student’s meal plan varies in the point to meal ratio during their four years at Wesleyan. As housing options change, so too does access to a kitchen (as one can imagine, Usdan becomes less appealing after 900 swipes into the dining hall). I will primarily focus on first years’ dining options for simplicity’s sake.
First years get to choose between four meal plans prior to matriculation. These range from 285 meal swipes a semester with 59 points to 135 meals with 563 points. Many first years I’ve encountered chose the meal plan with 165 meal swipes and 324 points, as it seems to be a good balance of both meals and points.
To anyone but a nervous and intimidated first year thinking about, I don’t know, EVERYTHING else that is scary about entering college, it may seem obvious that 135 meals are not a lot. There are around 112 days in a semester, or 16 weeks. This means a first year with 165 meals gets 1.7 meals a day in order to make it to the end of the semester. A student on this plan would also get 3.3 points a day.
For first years and sophomores, the comprehensive residential fee, which comprises housing and food, is $14,466. Students at other NESCAC schools seem to be getting a better deal. First years at Amherst College get unlimited meal swipes in their dining hall, and their residential fee is $14,190. It is important to note that the Amherst residential fee only includes room and board, while the Wesleyan sum potentially includes extra fees, accounting for the price gap.
For athletes, the skimpy meal plan comes with a whole other slew of challenges. There is no special plan for athletes, and living on one to two meals a day is difficult for many.
“I’m on the meal plan that has the most points and the fewest meals, and even still I’m already almost out of points,” swimmer Max Mayer ’21 said.
“I don’t know how non-athletes would respond to that,” he explained in response to the idea of a separate plan for athletes. “Being an athlete comes with an increased use in points. You do a lot more snacking; you have to run to practice so instead of swiping in you run to grab a bagel or something.”
For many students, an easy solution would be taking food to go. If students take a slice of pizza in a Tupperware, they can get two meals for one swipe. But Wesleyan is strict about this regulation. Taking food out of the dining hall is prohibited unless in an eco-to-go container.
For Joshua Ledford ’21, the inability to take food to go is perhaps his largest grievance.
“My Adderall started kicking in, which oftentimes suppresses your appetite,” Ledford said. “I already had all my food spread out and I turn to eat and I’m not even hungry. And because I didn’t walk in and buy a thing [eco-container] to take my food to go with, they wouldn’t let me buy a container.”
In this instance, he not only wasted a swipe but also the food on his plate.
So what will students running out of meals and points do when the balance hits zero? For some students, a call home to ask that more points be transferred is soon due. For other students, financially, this is not an option. Perhaps their future will see a switch to a diet consisting strictly of cereal. More importantly, this raises questions about Wesleyan’s thinking when it comes to the offered meal plans. Are they trying to teach us a lesson in economics, or are we being ripped off?
Jodie Kahan is a member of the class of 2021. Jodie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org