Hungry? Let’s be honest—we’re college students. The answer is definitely yes. We have the appetite, but whether or not we have the food to match is another question altogether.
Recently, I collaborated with Ala Tineh, Class of 2017 college council representative, and Aseal Tineh, Class of 2016 vice president for student affairs, to create a survey asking for student feedback concerning the University’s policy of closing the dining hall on Saturday nights. Although the survey was minimally marketed, it managed to break 100 responses in a day, and it currently stands at more than 340 responses. The majority of the participants were those who are affected most by the dining halls’ closure: first-years and people on the Unlimited Meal Plan.
More than half the respondents believed that closing the dining hall on Saturday nights is a serious concern, mainly due to the personal cost involved—a majority of students spend $11 to $15 on each Saturday night dinner. Distance, weather, and travel (including lack of convenient transportation options, as well as an inability to devote time to travel due to work or study) are additional worries that closely follow cost.
When I brought up these issues with University of Chicago Dining officials, they pointed to Maroon Dollars as the immediate solution. “First-years, for example, have $100 per quarter,” one official told me when I met with UChicago Dining. “If you split the quarter into 10 weeks (excluding finals), then you see that theoretically you could spend $10 per Saturday night per meal at one of the campus shops.” There is logic to this statement. More than 70 percent of survey responders did say that they wished they had more information about how and where Maroon Dollars could be spent on campus during Saturday nights. So is using Maroon Dollars the magic cure?
Let’s look at what options students have to use their Maroon Dollars on Saturday nights. Maroon Market, Midway Market, and Tiffin Café (in I-House) are all open on Saturday nights, where items such as pizza, sandwiches, and snack foods can be purchased. Café Logan is open until 8 p.m., Hutch Commons is open until 7 p.m., and C-Shop is open until 11 p.m. While these present several options to students, whether or not one would be able to purchase a nutritious, filling meal from these places is still questionable. You can get a small, arguably insufficient Subway sandwich with one fruit (if you’re feeling healthy), but you’ll probably end up with chips, soda, and pizza instead, which are more appetizing than the limited sandwich options and are offered in larger quantities. That is, of course, if you choose to eat at all.
Another problem with Maroon Dollars is that a large majority of students prefer not to spend Maroon Dollars on Saturday nights, since they save them for snacks, coffee, and other incidental food purchases. By the time students are halfway through the quarter, they’ve probably drilled a sizable hole into their Maroon Dollar allowance.
As a result, students are spending $100 to $150 per quarter on dining out, on top of our high tuition and living fees. After all, UChicago ranked as the fourth-most expensive college in the U.S. at $62,000. And when you consider that a little less than half of students receive financial aid…
I don’t need to be an economics major to know that is a lot of money—part of which should be used to provide quality dining options, including Saturday night dining. It’s not any wonder that many students are frustrated that Saturday night dining is not provided.
As a result, an overwhelming number of students want the University to provide free dining options on Saturdays (either through opening dining halls, adding meal exchanges, or increasing Maroon Dollars), or at least provide cheaper and better meals. Some students support a solution that involves providing a website or an app that informs students about free or cheap food events or opportunities. In fact, we do have one, but it is unclear how many students know about it. Others want free transportation options to Chicago neighborhoods to get out of the Hyde Park bubble and explore our community. Dining Services suggested sacrificing one Fourth Meal and substituting it with a Saturday night meal. This way, the total number of meals per week would stay the same, but instead of having a Fourth Meal on Thursday and two meals on Saturday, students would have three meals on each of those days. Dining attempted to implement this idea in the past, but it was apparently unpopular since students found it inconvenient to give up a Fourth Meal.
All of these potential solutions are valid and, rest assured, they will all be explored through conversations with Financial Aid and Dining officials by Student Government officials, including myself, as well as Aseal and Ala Tineh, who plan to expand our research to what other schools are doing and what solutions we can adopt. In the meantime, check out the Saturday night locations where you can spend Maroon Dollars or use a meal exchange. Find ways to budget, either by checking out free food events that are usually announced on Facebook, keeping your eyes and ears open for House events, cooking for yourself, or splitting meals with friends. The RSO Socioeconomic Diversity Alliance also has a great guide to budgeting in Hyde Park.
Preethi Raju is a first-year in the College majoring in economics and biology.