Last week, the University of Florida announced a new policy that waives on-campus parking fines for students who donate at least five cans of food to the University’s transportation department. The policy may seem strange, but the department then delivers the donations to a local food pantry, so students can give back instead of writing a check to their university. University of Colorado Boulder added a similar system that applies to parking citations and they’ll test run the program next week.
Across the country, universities have changed their policies on paying administrative fines. Programs let students make a donation to food banks instead of monetarily paying the fines, providing an alternative for where students’ money is going and allowing them to make a difference with their payment. GW should follow their lead and add a similar system that lets students purchase cans as a donation to The Store, GW’s student-run food pantry, instead of paying for smaller University fines.
Instead of taking a few extra dollars from students, the University should instead use these violations to instill university values, like community and service.
As a university with an urban campus, very few students keep cars on campus, and therefore there aren’t many student parking fees. But there are other pesky fines that plague students ranging from a 25-cent library fine for an overdue book to a $125 fine per resident for a room that is not left “broom clean” on move out. Adding a few dollars to a tuition of nearly $70,000 this fall may seem insignificant, but small fees can add up and be a greater financial burden for students.
A few additional cans of food donated to The Store wouldn’t make a huge difference to students who use the service, but it would make donors think of their community and reflect, which is the purpose of a fee in the first place. Instead of taking a few extra dollars from students, the University should instead use these violations to instill university values, like community and service.
GW has the opportunity to create a program that would benefit a wide variety of students. The Store opened in 2016 and now serves more than 550 students as food insecurity has become a growing concern on campus. The University and students should be helping those struggling so they can focus less on where their next meal is coming from and more on being a student. Although The Store already partners with Capital Area Food Bank for donations of food and kitchen materials, student contributions can still make a difference. If a program like this were offered at GW, students would feel a stronger sense of community because of the importance placed on helping others.
University of Florida started their program just last week, but other universities have been alleviating fines through donations for years. American University has participated in this type of program since 1997. When American University’s on-campus food pantry, The Market, opened in 2017, the program began allowing students to donate directly to their peers while paying off up to $20 in library fines. Texas A&M University recently marked the fifth year of its Food for Fines program – which lets students to shave off up to $50 of their library fines through donations – this year.
If a program like this were offered at GW, students would feel a stronger sense of community because of the importance placed on helping others.
Adding a program like this at GW would require laying out rules and regulations as to what can be accepted as a donation and how the amount of cans required for donation would coincide with the cost of the fine. American University, for example, puts a dollar amount on each item so one can equals $1 removed from the student’s fines. At Texas A&M University, 10 ounces or more of donated canned food also equals $1. Both universities run the program for a limited time during the school year.
Although fines and fees are a necessary part of any system, the way they’re paid off doesn’t need to be standard. GW should look to these schools as examples of ways to encourage students to pay off fees while simultaneously supporting their food pantry and student community.
Marin Christensen, a freshman, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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