Increasing dining dollars does not solve the problem of food insecurity on campus

In an attempt to curb the financial challenges of eating at D.C.’s high-priced restaurants on the University’s meal plan, GW increased the number of dining dollars students receive for the third consecutive year.

The move is meant to improve student life on campus, but what students actually need is cheaper food options and a more flexible meal plan – they don’t need a boosted up meal plan that requires them to spend more money at the start of each semester.

The University’s decision to increase GWorld dining dollars for the third year seems like a helpful means to reduce food insecurity on campus, but it really just adds a cost for students. In accordance with GW’s meal plan, $1,400 a year is currently allotted for students with a kitchen and $2,300 is allotted for those housed in residence halls without a kitchen. This cost is charged to students’ accounts alongside tuition and other fees, and upping the amount in students’ meal plans can place a significant strain on students and their families.

Cartoon by Tara Peckham

GW’s open dining plan also adds to the economic stress students face. GW scrapped J Street, the University’s traditional dining hall, in 2016 and students were left without a low-cost option to eat at. This move has differentiated GW from its peer institutions and while it may attract some students because of the variety of restaurant options available, it means that the main food sources for students are high-priced D.C. establishments.

Attending GW is expensive enough as it is. The cost of attendance at GW will surpass $70,000 next year, and while students are locked in at their tuition rate for five years, that promise does not include other fees like room and board, which is the category students’ meal plans fall under.

A Student Association report released last year found that GW is more expensive than its peer universities in nearly every category of regular expense, from transcript fees to health care. With an expensive education, pricey charges and lofty costs of living in an urban area, students already must dole out a lot of money to attend GW and increasing the cost of mandatory meal plans does not help students.

By continuing to raise the amount students must pay for meal plans, the University is assuming that students have unlimited funds and simply adding to the amount they pay to have in their meal plan will fix the problem of the lack of affordable food on campus. In doing this, the University is inadvertently increasing socioeconomic inequality among students and exposing further divisions within the student body.

If the University really wants to help students with these issues, it should invest in programs that actually work to tackle food insecurity on campus. The Store, a food pantry on campus, helps students without additional costs, and GW could support students by making contributions to this program.

What students really need is flexibility. If meal plans stayed the same, they could spend their money where they want – whether that is at an upscale restaurant or a cheaper grocery store.

Although increasing the amount of money students have to spend on food may seem like a worthy investment in student life, it fails to do so effectively and only hurts the students it seeks to help.

Zachary Nosanchuk, a freshman majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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