Over 600 Stevens students have signed a petition formally requesting the Office of Residence Life to reconsider the newest housing policies which now mandate the purchase of any meal plan through Stevens dining services and no longer require students to purchase DuckBills.
Patrick Murray, along with all Stevens housing residents, received an email from the Office of Residence Life outlining the housing and dining changes two weeks ago. As a Student Leased Housing (SLH) resident, Murray was immediately impelled to initiate the petition to remedy what was, in his opinion, an unjustifiable and poorly-advertised change. “There are 542 residents in Student Leased Housing,” stated Murray, who performed various calculations including average weighted distance between SLH and campus (0.83 miles) and breakdown of the least expensive meal plan offered. For students opting to choose the 25 meals per semester meal plan—priced currently at $350— the cost per meal is $14, which exceeds the retail price of dinner at Pierce Dining Hall. “This change is frustrating given that none [of the SLH students] were spoken to previously.”
Murray approached the Student Government Association to determine a way to bridge the gap between the students and the Office of Residence Life. SGA President Tommy Daly is very excited to see students voicing their opinions in a proactive manner. “[The SGA] is very excited to see students taking an active role to bring about effective change,” said Daly, because “for us, it is crucial for students to understand that they can take control of their education and student experience.” This past Sunday, with the help of senior SGA Senator Andy Waldron, a proclamation was proposed and in its most current form reads, “[…] the 103rd Senate of the Student Government Association declares their support for the removal of meal plan requirements for Stevens Leased Housing Residents, as we believe this policy change is without the consultation of the Stevens community.”
Daly noted that the proclamation was discussed, but ultimately unanimously voted upon. He noted that this was not the first time the SGA has been used as a means to challenge administrative decision, recalling the efforts of Senator Colin Aitken and his Committee on Club Sports Improvement, which focused on returning Physical Examination credit to students actively engaged in Stevens club sports.
Trina Ballantyne, Dean of Residence Life, is aware of the kickback from the Stevens community, but offers a different perspective. “We are now defining the meal plan with food,” Ballantyne said, noting that many students utilize DuckBills in other capacities, such as buying toiletries or apparel. “There cannot just be a DuckBills option guarantee.”
What about students who utilize their off-campus kitchen facilities? “We’re not removing a student’s ability to cook,” argued Ballantyne. She explained that these changes are emphasizing three main points: community, connection, and convenience. Dean Ballantyne, the Office of Residence Life, and Compass One dining see the Pierce Dining Hall and the various locations on Stevens campus —in which meal exchanges can be utilized for all meal plans, including the 25 meals per semester option—as a place for students who live off campus to alleviate feelings of seclusion and disconnection that might result from living in SLH.
Sara Klein, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, echoed the sentiments of Daly. “I always encourage students to come forward in whatever way they feel is appropriate,” said Klein. She noted, however, that on an institutional level, Stevens is committed to all students being on a meal plan, whether they be a Davis Hall or 1700 Park Avenue resident. “From our perspective, DuckBills are not a meal plan,” said Klein. “They are great and serve a purpose, but we don’t want to be in the market requiring folks to get DuckBills.” Klein voiced concerns regarding the students who might not be using their kitchen to the fullest capacity. “Just because you have a kitchen does not mean you are cooking full meals,” said Klein. “We want to know that students are eating something with nutritional value at least a few times a week.”
Dr. Klein, who met with Daly this past week, is aware of the pricing breakdown that Murray and other SLH residents find to be inconsistent with the current retail prices offered at Pierce Dining Hall. “We agree, so we basically pushed back [on Compass One], said that this wasn’t good enough, and asked how we can be better,” said Klein. The Office is committed to developing options with Compass One to present to the Stevens community with the aid of the SGA prior to students committing to housing on March 1.
Dean Ballantyne, Dr. Klein and the Office of Residence Life are well aware of the students’ concerns. Daly noted he will be meeting with Dean Ballantyne this Friday to further discuss the students’ concerns and possible alternatives for those whom the dining changes are affecting.