Following online controversy that led to Carolina Dining Services reversing a decision that barred students living in Ram Village Undergraduate Apartments from purchasing on-campus meal plans, some residents are questioning why the initial decision was made in the first place.
On June 10, Carolina Dining Services wrote on its “Dining FAQ” page that only students living in on-campus housing, excluding Baity Hill, Granville Towers and Ram Village, would be allowed to purchase meal plans.
By June 11, the policy had changed.
That day, CDS released a statement explaining that the policy barring Ram Village students from purchasing meal plans, which was originally put in place to follow University policies about maintaining social distance and maximum capacity requirements, was repealed in light of student feedback.
"Earlier communications indicated that Ram Village residents would be excluded from purchasing meal plans," the statement reads. "We understand how this unanticipated decision might raise questions or concerns for these residents."
Melanie Exum, a rising senior who will be living in Ram Village for a second year, said she found out about CDS’ initial decision via Twitter. Exum said many of her own concerns stemmed from the lack of time residents would have had to prepare for the change.
“Although living in Rams you have access to a kitchen, you may not have access to resources you need to buy groceries or to cook,” Exum said. “So it was kind of shocking that they would make this decision and not notify people so that they could prepare for this type of thing.”
Lexi Tammi, a Ram Village resident and the chairperson of CDS’ student dining board, said although she has a car and the budget to buy groceries, she realized this was not the case for other residents after seeing the online dialogue.
She said she kept these concerns in mind when she approached Director of Auxiliary Services Scott Myers on Thursday about changing this policy.
Brianna Ramgeet, a rising junior living in Rams for the second year in the fall, said she was planning on cooking for herself and eating in the dining halls with the smallest meal plan when she read about the initial decision on Twitter.
“In my experience, most of the people that live on South Campus and in Rams are people of color,” Ramgeet said. “Something I’ve always noticed while I’ve been at UNC is that the community of people of color at UNC all come together, so I just wanted to make sure I was sharing information.”
Hanna Wondmagegn, a rising senior at UNC, won’t be living in Rams next year. However, she said as a student who has lived on South Campus for three years, she knows how difficult it is to navigate grocery shopping in Chapel Hill without a car.
She said the uncertainty of these experiences encouraged her to organize a “grocery buddy” system for students living in Ram Village.
Wondmagegn said it’s unfair for UNC to compare the meal situation of students in Rams to those living in Granville Towers — which has access to an in-facility dining hall — or students who live off campus.
“If you’re off campus, you kind of expect to be getting your own groceries, and so not getting a meal plan is going to be feasible,” Wondmagegn said. “When you’re signing up for Rams, you’re signing up with the expectation that you still have the option to get a meal plan.”
In the edited Carolina Dining FAQ answer released June 11, the statement clarifies that only on-campus students without "easy access" to a kitchen or their own dining hall would be allowed to purchase the meal plan. Other than the addition of "including Ram Village," the previous FAQ answer, which was released June 10, is identical.
"In accordance with the university policies to maintain physical distancing and maximum capacity requirements, we are limiting the purchase of meal plans to only those living in on–campus housing (including Ram Village) without easy access to a kitchen or their own dining hall," the answer reads. "Safely feeding our Tar Heels is our top priority."
Ramgeet said she would have been able to get groceries and cook if CDS' decision stayed, but she said many of her peers would not have the time or transportation to do the same.
“Everyone has a different situation, and not everyone is going to be a college student who has time to run home and go grab lunch,” Ramgeet said.
One resident, who requested to remain anonymous due to employment concerns, said they were worried they wouldn’t be able to extend the financial aid that usually covers their meal plan to purchases necessary to get food off campus, like groceries and gas.
“If you’re on the Covenant Scholarship or on any sort of scholarship where you get a lot of money from the school, they automatically cover your food and your housing,” the resident said. “How is the school supposed to keep up their part of the contract if they put you in dorms where you’re not allowed to have food on campus?”
Of UNC's 2019 incoming class, 14 percent received the Carolina Covenant Scholarship, a debt-free graduation scholarship available to UNC students whose combined family income sits at or below 200 percent of the poverty guideline.
According to a dining FAQ obtained by The Daily Tar Heel that has yet to be added to the CDS website, regardless of whether a student is enrolled in a meal plan, students who are eligible for financial aid will have an annual budgeted amount for meals of $4,862. If an eligible student is living at home with a parent and does not purchase a meal plan, they will receive $3,242 in financial aid for meal expenses.
This money could be used by students to purchase alternatives to meal plans, like groceries.
Tammi, who encouraged students to email her directly with any dining feedback or concerns, said the dining board and Carolina Dining Services values student feedback when making decisions like this, a sentiment reflected in CDS' June 11 statement.
Exum said in the case of CDS' policy, she wishes the input of students of color — who she said would have been disproportionately affected by this decision — was taken into consideration before the initial decision was made.
Though the class of 2023 is set to be the University’s most diverse class in at least ten years, 64.6 percent of the enrolled class identified as white.
“Much of the Black and brown community at Carolina does live in Rams Village, and Rams Village makes up a large part of that community,” Exum said. “It was kind of like, especially at a time like this, many of us felt like it was the University telling us they don’t care."
The anonymous resident said they were grateful this decision was ultimately reversed, but they encouraged students who don't live in Rams to consider the additional burden a lack of a meal plan could have on mobility for first-year students.
“Imagine if that source was taken away from you, from factors outside of your control, and now you have to fight for use of a kitchen, you have to figure out how to get groceries, you have to figure out feeding yourself entirely when normally the school would support that for you,” the resident said. “Imagine being a freshman, but you’re going hungry, because you don’t have access to a meal plan.”
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