The problem with meal-plans

by Jasmynne Sloan

Rachel Haaland eats a lot of grilled-cheese sandwiches from theStorm Street Grill.

“There’s just not a lot I can eat at Pfieffer or the Grill, oreven buy at the Grill,” said Haaland, a sophomore. “When I go tothe Grill, I can have grilled cheese or I can take the risk ofbeing sick for a couple of days by eating cheese pizza or cheesesticks. Those are the only three options I have. I love cheese, butI get so sick of it some days.”

Haaland is like many students at Simpson because she doesn’tlike her choices at dinnertime. However, her situation is moredifficult because she’s a vegetarian with health conditions thatrequire a specific diet of non-greasy foods.

Students who become frustrated with the meal plans offered atSimpson can file a petition to have their plan reduced to a smalleroption or even eliminated. Jim Thorius, the dean of students, isresponsible for making the final decision on any application for ameal-plan reduction.

“We try to work with students when we can,” said Thorius. “Wecan’t make exceptions for everyone because that ends up being achange in policy and I don’t arbitrarily set policy.”

Haaland applied to have her meal plan reduced, and said theprocess was complex.

“It’s a simple idea, but they make you go all over campus forpeoples’ signatures,” she said. “I understand that it might changeyour financial aid, but it takes forever.”

The form must be signed by someone in financial aid and thebusiness office before it returns to Thorius.

“There are potential ramifications to a student’s financial aidfrom Simpson, and therefore to their billing,” said Thorius. “Theyneed to understand that they’re changing more than their mealplan.”

Haaland petitioned to change her meal plan from 12 meals to 6meals, but was denied.

“I wish I could have gotten the smaller plan,” she said. “I’monly using about half my meals right now.”

One option students have once they’ve been denied a meal-planreduction is to work with Sodexho Campus Services to modify theirexisting meal plan.

LoVan said he works with students by going through the weeklymenu to find out what they can or cannot eat and then deciding whatkinds of food they still need.

“First we have to understand what they need, but then we arevery successful in accommodating them,” said LoVan.

Haaland is one student who has made arrangements to be givencertain food as part of her meal plan.

“It’s definitely a special circumstance,” she said. “You have togo through a lot of work to get to this point. You have to applyfor a reduction, be denied, call Jim Thorius and talk to him, thenhave a meeting with Vince [LoVan] to decide what to do next.”

In Haaland’s case, though, it has been worth the extra work.

“The food service has been trying to help me out a lot,” shesaid. “My selection is still limited, but it’s a lot better than itwas before.”

Simpson requires all resident students to purchase a meal plan,but off-campus students do not have to. It is possible foroff-campus residents to purchase a meal plan, although few do.

According to Birkenholtz, exceptions to the requirement that allresident students buy a meal plan are very rare.

“We make it very clear in our policies that if you’re at Simpsonas a full-time student you live on campus and you’re on a mealplan,” said Birkenholtz. “That’s the deal. We stick to it and weexpect the students to stick to it.”

The college has a variety of reasons for requiring students tohave meal plans. Birkenholtz said an important reason was topromote campus unity.

“We’re trying to build a central community, which is part of thecollege experience,” said Birkenholtz. “This gets you out of yourroom and over to the dining hall to mingle with other people, plusit ensures that you have healthy selections to eat.”