Campus News

Editorial: Why the changes to the meal swipes policy don’t have to be a lost battle

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Editor's note: the opinions expressed in the following article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bethel Beacon and are solely those of the author.   It’s been nearly two months since students received an email detailing changes to the meal policy at Bethel. Those changes had been made in response to a widespread outcry from students concerning the discontinuing of meal swipes at Sufficient Grounds (SG). I’ve been mostly silent about this issue, at least publicly. I’ve asked questions, listened and gathered information on the issue for the past several weeks. I’ve analyzed several of the visible actions taken by Student Development and Student Council (StuCo). And as the weeks came and went, I gradually began to realize that the meal swipe policy, as I’ve known it, will never be reinstated.  I began to get discouraged, even a bit cynical. “We’re the ones paying a dear price for meal plans,” I kept thinking. “Why do we have less and less options instead of more for the price we pay?" I know I’m not alone in this. Many students have expressed these sentiments, publicly and privately. I felt it was time for me to speak up on this issue. But before I spoke, I wanted to make sure I understood the issue as fully as possible, so I reached out and gathered a few more facts and updates on the issue. I’d like to share those findings with you. While Student Development and Student Council have both been actively involved in the issue from the start, negotiations got off to a rough beginning when a forum, intended to provide students with an outlet to express concerns and frustrations, was not attended by any representatives of Student Development. To be fair, the forum had approximately 30 people in attendance. That’s a small number when you consider the size of the full student body, which numbers over 1,700 students. Student body president Benji Andrews said he thinks that the announcement of drink swipes being reinstated, which was made right before the forum announcement, took some of the air from the forum. Andrews, along with senior Jordan Hopkins oversaw the forum. Let me recap for those who were not in attendance; the forum began with an opportunity for students to express their concerns and frustrations. These were each recorded, and then student body president Benji Andrews pulled a separate piece of paper from his pocket. He then shared explanations that addressed some of the questions students had asked and announced a list of changes that Student Development had already made that would soon be in effect. Some concerns and questions were not addressed at all by the information shared, and when students pressed for answers, Andrews mainly repeated some of the information but did not offer additional details. He did also express that he would bring several of the additional concerns to Student Development in the days and weeks that followed. It seemed that, even though no one from Student Development attended the forum, they still had a great deal of control over it. Besides the “talking points” given to Andrews and Hopkins to share at the forum – which, by the way, were almost verbatim what I had been told by Bethel administration in a previous interview – Student Development also had a great deal of influence over how the forum was promoted. When asked if Student Development had ever stepped into StuCo and directed things (rather than allowing it to be fully student-run), Andrews said, “The only thing I can think of is when Shawn added to the forum announcement right before I gave it.” Conversations I had with students afterwards on the night of the forum revealed that several students who had been in attendance were dissatisfied with the forum. They shared two primary reasons for their dissatisfaction.  First, they didn’t feel that all their questions had been answered, and second, no one from Student Development was in attendance despite their clear involvement in setting up the event. Many expressed that they would have liked to communicate their concerns directly to Student Development. "I know that they're busy and it's nine o'clock at night," said sophomore Hannah Cave. "I guess I maybe felt a little disrespected that they didn't care to show up. And maybe they did, but that's what it felt like." During the forum, Hopkins made the point that the low attendance numbers may have sent a message to Student Development that the student body in general, with a few exceptions, would be upset by change but would "just go along with it." However, because the forum was announced after Holtgren announced the imminent changes, I tend to agree with Andrews. As a student, I felt very much like attending the forum would not make any difference because administration had already decided how things were going to be. I also would point out that, if one is going to use that argument, the reverse is also true. By not being present at the forum and by listing the changes prior to announcing the forum, Student Development may have sent a message to students that, regardless of what the student body says or thinks, they are going to decide what will happen and students will really have no say in those outcomes. I'm definitely a huge supporter of student representation, and I understand that having one representative speak on behalf of many constituents allows for faster, better-informed solutions. However, when a forum is scheduled specifically so students can share their concerns with the people who have the power to make those changes, and those people then do not attend (instead relying on someone else to relay information to them), it feels to me like a "cop-out." In the several weeks that have followed since then, many have done just that. I spoke with Shawn Holtgren, vice president for student development, about his involvement in the issue since the forum. He’s heard from many students through Student Council representation, direct emails and Facebook messages, parents’ phone calls and face to face conversations with students, who have stopped by his office or scheduled meetings. Holtgren said that, over the past several weeks, his primary involvement with the issue has been to work on sub-issues such as increasing the number of Acorn staff employees, improving communication to make sure students know where to find former SG items at the Dining Commons (DC) and smoothing out details for the grab-n-go option at the Dining Commons. Additionally, within the past several weeks, Holtgren spent some time at George Fox University, where similar issues have arisen recently. Holtgren said he was encouraged to see that Bethel is approaching the issues in a similar way to the university. Still, many students find themselves in a position where they are rushing to the Dining Commons after a long block of classes. Holtgren said that he cannot yet promise any specific changes in the DC hours, but he is engaged in the conversation and more changes may be coming. These changes may involve an extension of lunch hours until 1:30 p.m. on weekdays or even the DC remaining open all day with hot food available during specific meal periods and cold foods available all day. Holtgren also said he’s reached out to several local restaurants in hopes of expanding the number of Bethel Bucks options available to students. He contacted both McDonalds and Taste of Asia, but both restaurants turned him down because “they didn’t have the margin” to be able to take on the contract. He’s currently discussing the possibility of a partnership with Chick Fil-A which would allow students to use Bethel Bucks there, but Chick Fil-A has neither accepted nor rejected the offer as of yet. Of course, while such a prospect is exciting to many students, that excitement is tempered by the fact that many students struggle to make the few Bethel Bucks they have last more than a few weeks. Then, they’re out of luck until the next semester unless they can come up with the money to purchase more – and let’s face it, most college students don’t just have extra money laying around. At the same time, many students with traditional meal plans find themselves scrambling to use up their swipes at the end of the week before they lose them, and many students with flex plans have extra meal swipes at the end of the semester. Based on these widespread student challenges, it seems to me that students would appreciate meal plans that had more Bethel Bucks and fewer meal swipes – or at least having the option to select such a plan. How often does administration review the meal plans themselves and revise them as needed to better meet student needs and preferences? We’ve seen them evaluate and change policies, mostly to restrict the options we already have on campus. Would the Bethel administration consider re-evaluating the meal plans and perhaps adding a few more options which have primarily Bethel Bucks (which, by the way, can be used at ALL campus dining locations: the DC, the Acorn, SG and the DC's grab-n-go station) along with a very limited number of meal swipes? Since Bethel Bucks are more versatile than meal swipes, it’s no surprise that students prefer Bethel Bucks to meal swipes. The question is, why are we limited to two dining options for most of our meals because we have so many meal swipes and so few Bethel Bucks? Bethel administration isn’t the only entity working on this issue, however. On the student council side, Andrews has been working on the issue from his own position. He said his position as both student body president and a Sufficient Grounds worker puts him in a unique position to be able to listen to students and then do something about the concerns students bring to him. “Students can just come up and talk to me while I’m working,” he said. Andrews said that Bethel’s administration has been “very open” to receiving his insight on the issue. “The biggest issue is that the administration didn’t know how big of a deal SG was to students,” he said. Andrews has been working with Sodexo and with Bethel administration to get students a stronger voice on food service issues. “The biggest thing we’ve done is add a chair of food services,” he said. “Jim Metherd has tried to get a group of students together, but that hasn’t worked.” Despite his efforts, however, Andrews acknowledged that his power to make changes is very limited. “I think depending on how we handle things, we can have a lot of influence,” he said. “In reality, we don’t have a lot of power, but we can have influence based on what we do.” The voice of the students is critical in any college. No college could remain open without its students. In a community like Bethel, we are surrounded by administration members who Holtgren says are focused on serving students and meeting their needs. However, if they never hear what those needs are, there is only so much they can do to help. Andrews and Student Council have been largely instrumental in making that voice heard, but the more students speak up, both to Andrews and to Bethel administration, the greater likelihood there is of actual changes occurring – and not just any changes, but also changes that are beneficial to students and the institution as a whole. Will we get our SG meal swipes back? I’ve come to realize that this isn’t likely to happen. However, administration is still evaluating the situation and making changes. It’s not too late to let them know what we want. What changes would you like to see? Email me at katherine.debolt@bethelcollege.edu or Beacon managing editor Wesley Lantz at wesley.lantz@bethelcollege.edu to share the kinds of changes you’d like to see happen! Be creative! This is our alma mater, and this is a crucial moment in our history together. As students, we have the ability to voice our needs and concerns and together play a role in shaping policies that will impact future students for years to come.
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