By Annabel Epstein ’18, Christina Sivulka ’18, and Sage Wylie ’19
Campus dining has been a hot topic at GW for many years. With the recent creation of The
Store, GW’s Food Pantry, and subsequent spikes in users, student fellows at The Food Institute became curious to find where and how the system is falling short. After weeks of thorough research, we are pleased to publish our findings for our community to see. On January 25, 2018, we met with President LeBlanc to discuss the details of our report and next steps for GW dining. With this, we hope that the new GW administration under President LeBlanc will begin to take action to remediate this system and put the wellbeing of the students first.
Here are the main takeaways from our findings:
Hunger is universal on most college campuses, including GW. 48% of college students in the US are food insecure, meaning they have a limited or uncertain ability to acquire nutritionally safe and adequate food. GW students, paying one of the highest university tuitions in the US, also experience both hunger and food insecurity. As things stand, over 500 GW students rely on GW’s student food pantry, The Store, and 67% of first-generation GW students have reported not having enough to eat at least once a month. The current situation regarding food insecurity on campus goes beyond the traditional college student stereotype of ramen and late nights- students are going without meals multiple times a week while struggling to succeed in class, extracurricular activities, or internships.
Setting students up to fail. The high reportings of hunger on campus shouldn’t come as a surprise due to the current dining plan in place. As of right now, freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors are allocated $6.10, $4.02, $3.27, and $1.78 per meal per day, respectively. However, GW dining vendors charge students on average $10 per meal, with the university receiving a 10% cut from most vendors. Essentially, students on campus are required to purchase a meal plan and are subsequently forced to spend it at locations where the university is able to make a profit while students go hungry. This isn’t a budgeting issue as the university frames it, the numbers just don’t add up. Time Magazine reports that undergraduate students who eat all of their meals on campus spend up to 85% more per day on food than they would likely pay if they cooked all their meals at home. However, many students do not have access to kitchens. The largest freshman dorm has a student to kitchen ratio of 1,116 to 1. As a remedy, online student groups often give advice to new or incoming students: “If you sleep until noon you only have to pay for two meals instead of three.” It’s clear that students are suffering and that the current system is setting these students up for failure.
What can be done? There are a variety of potential solutions. With Restaurant Associates dropping out of their contract with GW, there is an opportunity for the university to explore other vendor options while keeping the students in mind. In the future, GW could also consider taking a lower profit cut from current vendors or by giving students flexibility when choosing their meal plans – students who opt out of a dining plan can save money by preparing food for themselves (if they’re lucky enough to have a kitchen), and students receiving financial aid can be guaranteed enough money to purchase the pricey meals at GW food vending locations. However, the most important action that can be taken right now is the creation of an open dialogue between students and the administration. Students are the ones affected by the administration’s decisions; however, they often have little to no say in the decision making processes.