Scripps College students who remained on campus over spring break earlier this month had to make some budget adjustments after the college announced that meal swipes would not be accepted at Malott Commons during the off-week.
Scripps Interim Assistant Dean and Director of Campus Life Carmen Brown said in a Feb. 23 email to students that Flex dollars, Claremont Cash or a credit card would be required to purchase meals.
That email was the first that Soleil Laurin SC ’24 had heard of the change. Laurin stayed on campus for spring break, as they did for fall and Thanksgiving breaks as well, and noted the difference in policy.
“I don’t remember them charging us then,” they said. “So I feel like it’s a little weird to be charging us now.”
A March 7 statement from Scripps Associated Students noted that its board had received messages of frustration and anxiety from students about the school charging for meals over break despite students already paying for meal plans.
“We were told that students who are concerned or in need of support can contact their [personal contact deans] for funding options for food over spring break,” the statement said, adding that SAS would continue to try to find a solution.
SAS President Maya Lynch SC ’22 said a number of students had been in touch with her about Scripps charging for meals over break and that students were generally unhappy about the policy.
“I’ve heard a lot of students concerned about the financial burden that having to pay for meals while on campus over break will cause,” she said.
Lynch said she had multiple conversations with Scripps administrators in attempts to address these concerns and achieved some success — administrators agreed that students could obtain funding from their deans if buying meals posed a financial concern.
But overall, she said, “the conversations on [the] admin’s end have been pretty clear that this … was not something they were open to changing this semester.”
Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Adriana di Bartolo-Beckman said the meal plan blackout isn’t new for Scripps.
“Spring break has always been considered a period of non-enrollment, and meal plans have never been used during that time, only Flex or Claremont Cash,” she told TSL in an email. “Historically, our dining hall was closed and Pomona or CMC kept their dining halls open for all students across The Claremont Colleges.”
It seemed the decision made by the administration was not whether or not to charge students for food, but whether to open the dining hall, Lynch said, with the cost of meals coming as a result of the decision to do so.
With three class years of students having never been on campus during a spring break, though, charging for meals for students on the meal plan came as a surprise to many.
Di Bartolo-Beckman said she recognized that many students may not have been aware of how the dining halls worked during break, so the administration informed students and SAS about the policy early.
Students said that the Feb. 23 email was the first communication they received regarding spring break meals.
“It definitely wasn’t something that I was expecting Scripps to do,” said Jaela Alvarez SC ’23. “I know that I, along with my roommates, did have a lot of issues with it because we were here for the majority of break.”
Laurin felt similarly.
“The reason I stayed on campus during spring break was to save money,” they said. “And [for Scripps] to charge extra just felt very inconsiderate.”
Laurin argued the administration should have made the information clear at the beginning of the spring semester. They said they might have gotten a different meal plan or spent their flex dollars differently had they known then that Scripps would charge for meals over break.
Alvarez also said she would have saved up her Flex money if she’d known she would need it for spring break. Staying on campus for much of break meant she and her roommates had to navigate trying to obtain extra funds from their personal contact deans for their meals, a process which she said was confusing and in fluctuation until the last minute.
“The very last thing that they changed it to was they just gave us $100 of Flex, but even then you had to reach out to them and then explain why you needed it,” she said.
Although di Bartolo-Beckman told TSL that all students who requested funding received it, Alvarez said that the request process could be complicated depending on students’ individual personal contact deans.
In addition to the unexpected nature of meals costing dollars rather than swipes, Laurin found the school’s lack of communication about meal prices frustrating.
“I have personally been avoiding the dining hall, because I have no idea what they’re charging,” they said in an interview over spring break.
Despite three emails to the student body about the inability to use meal swipes over the break, Scripps did not include the price of meals within any of the messages. Since they couldn’t find information on pricing, Laurin said they hadn’t gone to the dining hall once as of March 17, nor had their friends who also stayed on campus.
Lynch said that charging students out-of-pocket for meals over break presents an equity issue, and should be changed, for which she advocated in her conversations with the administration.
“It’s a huge financial burden. And it’s not okay,” she said. “I want to make sure that all of our students can have access to food over breaks and that’s really important.”
But she noted that the issue of how food gets paid for over break isn’t a simple one to solve.
“I don’t know that I think the outcome of this should just be to push to include spring break meal plans in the overall meal plan, because that just increases the financial burden on all our students, and our low income students who might not actually even be on campus over break,” Lynch said.
Lynch has been looking for a solution to this issue by communicating with the other 5Cs to learn what their strategies for charging for meals during spring break look like. She admitted that while she does not have an immediate solution, she is open to ideas, adding that the general Scripps community can make a difference in what this policy looks like in the future.
Harvey Mudd College took a different approach regarding spring break meals this year.
According to a March 7 email to students from Dean of Students Marco Antonio Valenzuela, those on campus over break could use their meal plans at Hoch-Shanahan Dining Commons, albeit with a limited menu.
He emphasized that this policy would only be in effect this year.
“Usually, student meal plans do not include meals during Spring Break as the Hoch is typically closed during this time. However, due to this year’s circumstances with COVID-19, your current meal plan will work during Spring Break at the Hoch only,” Valenzuela said.