Letter to the Editor: Meal plan petitions ignore workers and students from low-income backgrounds

Anfernee "Bubba" Murray

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We, as members of Students Organizing Against Racism and members of the Tulane community, came across news of future plans by Tulane administrative bodies to mandate that undergraduates purchase a four-year meal plan from the university. Students’ response to the idea has been extremely negative, as evidenced by the 1,300+ signatures on both of the students’ Change.org petitions.

After reading the petition, reviewing its comments and speaking to fellow students, however we are concerned yet not surprised that the conversation spotlights the concerns of students from wealthy families, sidelines the concerns of students from low-income backgrounds and students who receive less financial support from their parents, and altogether ignores the concerns of contracted workers whose labor would be exploited to implement a 4-year meal plan mandate. We write to you, Editor, to address our concerns on these issues.

To the students who wrote the petition and to those who uncritically support it, we echo

the concerns of many petition-signers and express our disappointment with the language of the text. The petition reflects students’ frustration with the low quality of Bruff food and with the general “unfairness” of imposing extra expenses on students. It fails to articulate that these extra expenses would disproportionately impact financially insecure students, privileging entitlement over equity concerns. Our critique is not unique to the meal plan petition. Rather, the petition reflects Tulane students’ pattern of engaging in collective action only in response to issues that directly threaten them. The narrative that “this won’t affect me directly, so I don’t have to change it” reflects Tulane students’ complacency to discrimination, oppression and exclusion. We must erase this complacency from our student body.

To Student Affairs, Housing and Residence Life, Campus Services and other relevant administrative bodies, we call upon you to withdraw plans for a four-year meal plan mandate. Historically, first and second-year students have been mandated to live on campus (save for commuters) and purchase a meal plan to meet their needs of shelter and food security. The assumption was that the funds would be used to financially support the endeavors and infrastructure that the school needed to serve students. Students pay a steep price for these resources, however, and expanding meal plan requirements would build another barrier for financially insecure students to avoid post-graduate debt.

Students from high-income families comprise the majority of our student body, but certainly not all of it. Creating infrastructure that only caters to the majority is foolish, inequitable and classist. Drastic change before consulting those who would be affected is reckless. We are also concerned about the lack of transparency demonstrated by the university throughout this process. If the widespread rumors do not reflect your planned next steps, then what are those next steps?

Your statement is a good start, but it fails to include an author, contact information for the relevant campus department or a concerns form. Furthermore, the contracted workers that make any of these resources possible have been totally left out of this conversation. Are they receiving a raise in pay, support or benefits to reflect their expanded role on campus? Were they treated adequately up until now? What about new hires and contracted construction workers?

To all members of the Tulane community, we expect greater accountability from you. This letter reflects our hopes that students can lift up the voices and concerns of all students especially those facing the most obstacles to succeed at Tulane and that administrators will follow their stated values by interrogating and changing their current actions to become truly sustainable, equitable, inclusive and progressive.