Meal plan proposal met with “near universal opposition” from student body

Ann Marie Powell answers students question regarding the proposed meal plan for the academic year of 2019-2020 on Feb.11. (Photo by Naomi Eskenazi

Ann Marie Powell answers students question regarding the proposed meal plan for the academic year of 2019-2020 on Feb.11. (Photo by Naomi Eskenazi

by Naomi Eskenazi

Due to intense student pressure, American University was forced to cancel plans for a meal plan change that would have resulted in a $1,000 increase for the required minimum meal plan.

Director of Dining and One Card Services  at American University, Ann Marie Powell answered students’ questions and addressed concerns about the new meal plan proposal at a Residence Hall Association town hall meeting on Monday, Feb. 11.

A number of students brought forward issues with the increased cost of the required meal plan. One student said that due to the high price of the new plan she would not be able to afford to live on campus.

“Meal plan prices have to go up. That’s reality,” Powell said in response.

“I appreciate the effort to have more options for students but they’re not acknowledging people who have financial insecurity when this institution already costs too much.” Laura Toner, Vice President of Communications and Outreach for the Residence Hall Association said.

Students with dietary restrictions came forward to voice their concerns with how American has been unable to provide them with meals. One vegetarian student said she only used 50 of her 175 meal swipes and wasted money. Another student stated he had lost 11 pounds his first year at AU because of the lack of choices that accommodated his diet.

One student came forward and stated he had a peanut allergy. He recounted the two allergic reactions he received after eating cross contaminated food at the Terrace Dining Room.

“Thank God I haven’t had to go to the hospital, yet. But with this meal plan, how would you justify making someone pay more for a literal game of Russian Roulette?” he said.

Powell responded that other students play a role in cross contamination and discussed the need for a community effort to keep the meals safe. Powell stated, “We don’t use nuts in our food.”

Toner expressed her concern about Powell’s response. “I wish [Powell] had been more empathetic to the student’s concerns and the situations they’re in,” she said, “To just say there is no peanuts used and then not acknowledge the fact he has experienced severe allergic reaction is completely invalidating that student’s experience.”

“By saying blanket statements of what you think is happening when clearly there is something else that’s going on is wrong,” Toner said.

The proposed plan’s mandatory minimum for first and second year students is 12 weekly meal swipes that would include $300 Eaglebucks. Other plan proposals include more options such as an All Access 7-day plan that would cost $3,050 per semester.  Dining dollars are eliminated under this new plan as well.

Chart showcasing the proposed Meal Plan options for the 2019-2020 academic year. (Photo by AU Dining)

Chart showcasing the proposed Meal Plan options for the 2019-2020 academic year. (Photo by AU Dining)

Currently the mandatory minimum for first year students is priced at $2,442 per semester and includes 175 meal swipes, $200 Dining Dollars and $200 Eaglebucks per semester. For second year students the mandatory minimum plan is priced at $1,588 per semester and includes 100 meal swipes, $200 Dining Dollars and $200 Eaglebucks.

The current plans do not allow meal swipes to roll over semester to semester. The new plan similarly would not allow unused weekly swipes to roll over into the following week.

Although many students lined up to give their questions and provide their input to Powell, they felt as if Powell was deflective and overly defensive when issues were brought before her. Student’s complained previously after an AWOL writer was told to leave a public AU dining meeting on January 30.

One student asked Powell directly her reasoning behind this. Powell responded that she would have needed resounding consent from the staff in the meeting. “You can come here as a student, but to represent a paper, I need to get the buy-in from all the people sitting at the table. That they know they’re being recorded of what they’re saying.” Powell recounted.

Some student’s concerns were met with applause or snaps of agreement by the other students gathered.

“It was pretty clear that there was near-universal opposition to the proposed change, as there has been since they were first introduced. Making things even more expensive at this school is, rightfully, never going to be well received.” McGlynn Cauchon, a senior at American said.

Campus Swipes , an AU organization dedicated to mitigating food insecurity on campus conducted a referendum regarding student opinion of the proposed meal plan on Feb. 13, in response to Monday’s meeting. (Photo by Campus Swipes)

Campus Swipes, an AU organization dedicated to mitigating food insecurity on campus conducted a referendum regarding student opinion of the proposed meal plan on Feb. 13, in response to Monday’s meeting. (Photo by Campus Swipes)

Cauchon had calculated the cost per swipe under the All Access option of the meal proposal. He had asked Powell what the estimate was of an average student’s meal consumption. Powell responded 10 meals per week. Based off Powell’s answer he discovered that the cost per swipe was $16 instead of the $8 that American Dining Services stated.

“The important thing to note there,” Cauchon said, “is that they were misleading students on the cost of the all access meal plan.”

A student asked about the revenue that American receives from dining; Powell maintained American receives very little revenue but would not answer the amount.

The meeting was originally scheduled to run for a half hour but lasted for a total of an hour and a half due to the long line of students who asked questions.

Powell commented on the number of students who attended Monday’s meeting. She said that she had never seen such a large turnout to a meeting she has held before. She stated that when the new meal plan was originally composed in November of 2018 only five students were present to give their input.

Despite the disapproval of the meal plan proposal overall, students acknowledged what they did like about the new meal plan proposal; “The only thing I do like about this plan is it eliminates dining dollars and gives students the ability to have an all access plan, but I’m pretty much opposed to the rest of it.”  Tom Lebert, Chief of Staff of Residence Hall Association said.

Assistant Director for Training and Leadership Residence Life Katie Fults was present at the meeting but when asked said she was not permitted to give a statement.