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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, December 10, 2023

Tufts should revert its meal swipe policy — again

Students, especially first-years, are paying thousands and receiving fewer options.

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The Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center is pictured on Sept. 10.

Dining halls are one of the most quintessential parts of a college experience. Many first-years especially will be getting their meals through campus dining halls rather than cooking or eating out — a phenomenon more pronounced at Tufts, where first-years are required to purchase the premium meal plan. As a result, the quality and accessibility of student dining is often a significant factor in college decisions, and something that Tufts and other universities appear to actively advertise and pride themselves on.

However, Tufts’ recent change to its dining plans, where only one swipe per meal period can be used at Hodgdon and Kindlevan, has left many students frustrated, especially because half of the undergraduate population is forced to be on a meal plan. First-years are automatically signed up for the 400-swipe-per-semester “Premium Plan,” and sophomores must purchase at least 160 swipes, making the new changes especially bad for underclassmen. Students can no longer “double-swipe” for additional food or drinks and snacks, while Tufts continues selling dining plans for the same rates.

Tufts previously rolled back the temporary ability to use meal swipes at the Commons and Mugar Cafe, but the most recent change occured this year. Patti Klos, director of Tufts Dining, told the Daily that though the state of meal swipes will be a new experience for most students, the university has not “changed” its meal policy but “reverted” to the policy it had prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, she framed this as a necessary change now that the pandemic is no longer at its peak, in order to manage inventory and production and create accessibility.

Unfortunately, these claims are hard to believe. And as tuition and dining costs only go up, students deserve better.

Even though the former swipe policy was enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, more than two full academic years have passed since it began — and students were used to the better policy. Tufts posted the latest changes on their website before the school year, but many students don’t actively check and may not realize the difference until after arriving on campus and picking a meal plan. As things stand, a lack of direct communication could break students’ trust in the administration.

Tufts’ citation of inventory and production concerns would seem to be rooted in a need to protect against overusing dining labor and excessive restocking of packaged items like candy, chips and bottled drinks. While there may be resource constraints now, it is not as if Tufts cannot afford additional labor. This year, Tufts will be paying dining workers at a rate competitive with their peers at universities like Harvard and Northeastern following union negotiations. Moreover, Tufts just renovated Hodgdon Food-on-the-Run this year, and renovations on the Kindlevan Cafe are currently in progress. Despite the fact that both renovations were touted to alleviate the inefficiency that led to meal plan changes, Tufts hasn’t given these places a chance to potentially improve student experience. By both restricting student access through renovations and revoking dining privileges, students are getting the short end of the stick.

Even accepting potential complications, the main drawback for many students about the meal plan changes has to do with the cost. The premium meal plan costs over $4,000, barring financial aid; even with such a high cost, options are limited for how first-year students can use the hundreds of swipes they’re forced to buy.

Students are paying more, benefitting less and although Tufts is aware, it is undedicated to fixing the situation. Though Tufts could make a change through better hiring or planning practices, they are unwilling to utilize these tactics and instead are limiting the ways students can pay for food. I encourage students to remain educated on the situation and to sign the Tufts Dining Petition to show support for reversing the dining policy.