A new semester usually means changes and new beginnings. This fall semester was no exception as Saint Peter’s University added four new enhancements to the dining experience. But like with most changes, there are usually voiced concerns throughout the community.
Starting this semester, any full-time undergraduate commuter student is required to have a meal plan. Although commuter students can choose from a variety of meal plans, there is a new mandatory commuter meal plan that includes 5 meals per semester and $60 in munch money for a total charge of $100 added to the semester bill. Any unused munch money from the current semester will be carried over to the following semester and can be used at Loughran, Carpe Diem and Pete’s Place.
To determine the new changes, Anthony Skevakis, Vice President for Student Life and Development, and dining services collected data from students through surveys, comment cards and sales to view what students wanted and were buying. Their data helped improve dining services by extending operation hours at Pete’s Place, including different meal plans to accommodate diets and allergies and making a cost efficient meal plan that would provide the best value for students.
“It is very important to me that no matter what we do in providing a service to students, that it has a sense of value,” said Skevakis “Part of the challenge in doing that is that any dining venues whether it is on campus or off, are you getting the most for your money?”
Skevakis along with Cynthia Farabaugh, Director of Dining Services designed the new commuter meal plan based on the data they collected. They approached Student Government, who voted on it and resulted in 13 voters in favor of passing the meal plan, zero against it and two abstaining. With this decision, Skevakis and Sodexo determined that every commuter should have the meal plan so that they could keep the cost as low as possible for the students.
“Only way to bundle all those pieces together and the design of the process was to have everybody contribute,” said Skevakis.
However, not all commuters are excited about the new changes. Some students prefer to bring their own food or eat out because, although the dining services has various meal options for different students, it doesn’t provide for everyone’s needs.
Junior Rabia Sandhu who recalls only going to the cafeteria once her freshman year, says she is not sure if she is going to use all her swipes because the cafeteria doesn’t provide the best options for her.
“As a Muslim I have to eat Halal food,” said Sandhu “ there is very limited options there for me so that is why I don’t go there.”
Senator of Student Government for the class of 2019 and commuter student, Gurcharan “Noble” Singh, who was one of the people who abstained from voting on the new meal plan, also doesn’t find himself eating in the cafeteria that often. Singh who is strict with his diet, loves to eat healthy but finds that the school doesn’t provide enough healthy options.
“They just don’t have enough healthy and/or vegetarian options to choose from,” said Singh “if I do want to eat, the healthiest thing is either salad or almonds… there isn’t that much and the prices keep going up, doesn’t seem like a win-win to me.”
Although the school has a registered dietitian, certified dietary manager and an executive chef that can meet with students to talk about their diets and concerns, there are other students who don’t have time to grab a meal or prefer to eat off-campus.
One of the new services is Loughran To-Go, which allows students to purchase a reusable container for a one time fee of $5 to take to the cafeteria and pack their meals to go. However, many students are still hesitant about the meal plan because they don’t have time to get meals.
Commuter student, Esmeralda Tepox, doesn’t agree with the new mandatory meal plan because she is rarely on campus outside of her classes. Tepox, who has a job off-campus, is usually rushing after classes to get to her job.
“It’s pointless for me to have the meal plan because I am never there,” said Tepox “... with the commuter life you literally have to be rushing with the buses to make sure you get there on time. I just feel like I don’t have time.”
Skevakis understands the different viewpoints among the Saint Peter’s community but he is looking at things from a wider perspective. He believes that these new changes were an important need that had to be met for students who purchase food on campus.
“Results were mixed on our end but I think there is a certain sense of value that students want to get,” said Skevakis “I truly believe that this provided met that value."
However, there is still a concern about the mandatory addition to the student’s bills with this new meal plan. Sanjana Mehta, class of 2021, would feel more comfortable with the meal plan if foods weren't overpriced at the Saint Peter’s stores. She says she probably will use most of her money at the café, but she would rather purchase food somewhere else.
“The food here, I don’t know why they do it, they go over the price,” said Mehta. “You are putting 100 bucks on my card and then you are telling me I can only use it here... it's so so stupid. It’s just a waste of money. I’m using my card because I am forced to use it now… but compared to what the outside charges us and compared to what you charge us, there is a huge difference.”
This article has been edited from its original version to correctly report that two SGA members abstained from voting on the commuter meal plan.