On the evening of Nov. 16, a post in the University’s community-forum Facebook group, WesAdmits 2021, ignited a discussion about something other than misplaced IDs and iPhones. Authored by Keane Chan Hodges ’21, a freshman from Hawaii, the strongly worded post criticized the University for not allowing students to use more than one meal swipe per meal period at the Usdan Marketplace.
“The fact that you’re only allowed to swipe once in a meal period is dangerous and iresponsible [sic],” Keane wrote. “I’ve lost more than ten pounds since I’ve gotten here bc the administration won’t let me use meals that I’ve paid for when I’m hungry. If I don’t eat when I’m hungry I lose my appetite. I’m constantly getting headaches and I damn near passed out a few times….Let me use my fucking swipes.”
Soon after the post went up, students began commenting with solutions to his problem. One student suggested that Keane keep their receipt and use it to get back into the dining hall after leaving the building. Another suggested that Keane bring a backpack with them to Usdan and take snacks and fruit for later. The post quickly garnered over 160 separate comments, many of them threads.
Keane saw these comments as inadequate solutions to what they see as a larger problem with the University’s dining system.
“K cool so the only viable solutions suggested have been 1. steal. and 2. lie to the staff,” they commented in response to one student who wrote that Keane was being unreasonable. “So yeah absolutely nothing fundamentally wrong with the way the meal system is set up.”
The FAQ page of the Dining at Wesleyan website, which is run by Bon Appétit, provides information about the rules on double swiping during one meal period.
“When dining in Marketplace you may have multiple servings while you remain within the facility,” the page says. “If you leave and return then you must pay for a second meal. For example, you cannot swipe a meal at 11:30am, eat lunch, leave and come back at 2:45 to eat again on that same, original swipe. You would have to pay again.”
The page also highlights that after Thanksgiving in the fall semester and the first Monday of May in the spring semester, students can use multiple meal swipes during one meal period.
“The hope is that this allows students to use up their meal swipes more effectively before losing them,” the FAQ page says about this unlimited swipe period at the end of each semester. “Students may also use these meal swipes as guest meals and may pay for another person’s meal.”
In both an email and in-person interview, Keane spoke about their first few months at the University and the trouble they’ve had maintaining a healthy weight since arriving on campus. They spoke about their fast metabolism and how three meals a day isn’t enough to keep them feeling well. Since they have the meal plan with 285 meals and only 59 points, Keane has eaten most of their meals at Usdan Marketplace. Without the ability—that points provide—to eat throughout the day, they have resorted to eating to the point of feeling sick at each meal just to feel full for the rest of the day. This wasn’t enough to keep them feeling healthy, though.
“I can’t eat that much in a meal, but I need 4,000 calories a day to maintain weight, and I can’t get that on three meals,” they said. “I realized my appetite was going away and I was eating less and less and less.”
Keane has also tried going to the other dining establishments on campus, but they said that each time they went, the dining employees would either mess up their order, or they would get food poisoning.
They started to get frustrated with the University’s dining operation over fall break when they were unaware that the dining halls would be closed during the four-day weekend. They have found inconsistencies in posted hours for campus eateries and felt stranded when they didn’t have access to food over the break.
“The least [University dining] could do is foot the bill for groceries, given that they are actively preventing us from using meal swipes we already paid them for,” Keane said.
Hoping to find others who were having the same problems, Keane posted in WesAdmits 2021, but they said that this post was not a solicitation of advice.
“The post was clearly not a request for advice, it stated a problem and a simple, streamlined solution,” they said. “There was nothing about it that would make a sane person think ‘oh this person wants my inane, unsolicited opinions.’ On top of that, the ‘suggestions’ showed a clear indifference toward the actual content of the post and a general lack of knowledge of how the meal system actually worked. None of them addressed the actual problem.”
When advice did start pouring in, Keane felt insulted by what they saw as students thinking they could solve a problem they had been dealing with for months with a quick comment. They were frustrated that commenters reiterated points that had been made earlier in the thread and posted solutions that Keane had already refuted. Keane saw the response to their post as indicative of the financial privilege of many University students.
“The fact that they have no idea what the rules are for the meal system some of them have been using for several years shows that most of them have a convenient source of food money outside of their prepaid plan,” they said. “They’ve never had to worry about going hungry because they can always call their well-to-do parents to top up their points. The fact that it never crossed their mind that not everyone has an endless source of disposable income to splurge on overpriced snacks and groceries I don’t have the time or equipment to properly cook is telling.”
People also started making jokes about Keane’s situation in the comments. Reaction GIFs and memes flooded the comments section expressing the disbelief of some students who had never considered that not being able to swipe twice during a meal period could be a problem for some.
“You might have a tapeworm…you should get that checked out,” one student joked.
“Wait I’ve only gained weight since I’ve eaten at usdan….tips on how to be you?” another student wrote.
Keane was unamused by these jokes. They spoke about how this interaction with the University community gave them a new understanding of its students and their supposedly liberal values.
“These people are living in a consequence-free bubble and for most of them, their politics don’t extend beyond their bumper stickers,” they said. “Their values aren’t values, they’re not a set of standards that they judge their own behavior by but instead a hyper-specific set of rules they follow and words they’re not allowed to call people. Anything not on this list, they feel free to do without a second thought despite how obviously incongruous it is with the value set they claim to uphold.”
Justin Liew ’18 commented on the post when people criticizing Keane for rejecting the help that people were giving them. He defended Keane from what he saw as bullying.
“I didn’t like the jokes people were making ’cause it’s bullying to me,” Liew said in an interview with The Argus. “I don’t think it’s fair ’cause [they] raised a legitimate issue that troubles [them] but people were making fun of it. I didn’t like how people were not considering the possibility that Keane might have some other issues which could explain [their] situation or the way [they] wrote about it. The responses were generally pretty indicative of the diversity of Wes where some mock, some try to help, etc. but overall I was kinda disappointed that more chose to mock than empathize.”
Rachel Williams ’19, who commented with suggestions of people and offices Keane could contact with these concerns, thought that the comment section got out of hand when Keane started shooting down every offer of help.
“In terms of the response to the post, it got a little out of hand, but at least at the beginning people were offering helpful suggestions that were ignored or shot down, which is why I think it turned into a more outrageous situation,” she said. “In general, I think this campus is willing to help people and answer questions, which you can see from the helpful suggestions that were made on that post and the way other posts in WesAdmits or the other facebook groups on campus are met with good responses. I just think this one went a little bit wild.”
Some students responded to the post and the discussion surrounding it with memes. Gemmay Shay ’18 posted a meme on Soggy We$ Memes, a Facebook meme page serving the University community, that got over 30 likes in five minutes. Shay commented on how they came up with the meme.
“The expanding brain meme is probably overdone at this point, I just thought it was funny that a wildly out of place post in the de facto lost and found board started the best drama of the semester,” Shay said. “Also I still think rageface memes are funny.”
After a student commented on the meme saying that it was a form of bullying, an admin of Soggy We$ Memes took down the picture. Shay reposted a “clean version” of the meme, with a warning against cyberbullying in place of the post’s text, and a student commented saying that Keane had seen the meme and wasn’t offended by it.
“Apparently OP’s roommate showed [them] my post and [they] thought it was funny, so I don’t feel like the cyberbullying claims have much merit,” Shay said. “There were definitely some vicious comments in that thread, but they were coming from both sides. I do genuinely hope [Keane] gets to eat more in the future….There’s a smaller and less regulated meme group that got created in the aftermath of all this, which is where I plan to live out my posting days until graduation.”
Keane has said that they are currently able to use multiple swipes in one meal period during the weeks following Thanksgiving break. They plan to change their meal plan next semester to have more points. Keane has reached out to the administration with their concerns but has received little help.
“The problem is there’s no centralized administration,” they said. “There’s no, ‘this is the administration building you go here for this.’ There’s like 10 different departments that all handle little minutia…I ended up just getting bumped around between different people…. The only useful advice I got was, ‘Just change your meal plan.’ That begs the questions, why is that an available meal plan? Why is the University selling you that many swipes?”
This experience, coupled with others they have had in their few months on campus, has tainted Keane’s view of Wesleyan.
“We spent an entire week being hammered on how inclusive and open-minded of a community Wesleyan was,” they said. “The last few months have shown this to be a lie. This is a hyper-conservative, exclusionary community, built with a general lack of care for anyone not from the east coast. I don’t expect every part of the world to be as friendly and welcoming as the Islands, but you’d think I could expect a basic level of human decency.”
William Halliday can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.