First trial of Spring Break grant program raises questions.
For students who cannot afford the high travel costs during peak periods, such as Spring Break, the price of food in Harvard Square can place a heavy burden. Rather than being forced to miss meals, the administration has offered assistance to accommodate these students. Some students who remained on campus for Spring Break this year were eligible to receive a grant from the college to provide for their meals while dining halls would be closed.
The $225 dollars provided to eligible students for the 9 days of Spring Break when dining halls are closed is expected to cover 3 daily meals. However, this is unrealistic considering the unsurprisingly high cost of living near Harvard Square. The price of a meal will likely cost more than $12, which adds up for students who are supporting themselves through undergrad. During the semester, students typically treat themselves to meals in the square every so often but not as frequently as multiple times within a week. However, before the past couple years, students have had to do so during Spring Break without access to dining halls. The Spring Break grant may offer flexibility to some students who would prefer to buy groceries for the week and cook for themselves rather than traveling to farther dining halls or buying overpriced meals in the square. However, the food that students living on a budget often buy for themselves is typically less nutritious than what they would find in the dining hall during term time. Unless students find kitchens readily accessible, the likelihood that they will be comfortable cooking for themselves during the week is not high. Perry Abdulkadir ‘18 notes that “the grant doesn’t cover everything unless you go out to a grocery store and budget your money well and cook food for yourself. It’s not enough for three meals a day.”
At the urging of students for recognition from the administration in years past, last year saw two dining halls remain open during Spring Break for students who would be remaining on campus. While leaving Dunster and Currier House dining halls open last year allowed many students to access food during the break, the administration piloted the Spring Break grant as an alternative. Dunster and Currier are able to welcome in students from both the river and quad houses, with those living in the yard find themselves traveling the same distance more or less to these dining halls as they would elsewhere for meals. Last year’s program offered meals during the regular lunch and dinner times, which allows students to follow their regular schedules for food during these times.
Many students prefer the open dining hall system to the Spring Break grant. Charity Barros ‘18 cites the many students who remain on campus as well as the dining hall workers who would otherwise be out of work for a week as noteworthy reasons to continue the previous program. “Last spring the open dining halls were pretty packed, so I’m not sure why they changed strategies. I think it’s pretty obvious that the dining halls consistently provide foods of better nutritional value and variety than any student would be getting on a budget,” says Barros.
While marches and protests on Harvard’s campus to raise awareness for those living under the poverty line have taken on a larger presence in past years, students relating to these issues themselves have not been as recognized. Harvard’s unlimited dining plan unites the student body at Harvard, regardless of socioeconomic background. Unlike peer institutions that only offer a limited amount of meals per semester covered by financial aid, Harvard has one universal dining plan. Since students are able to swipe into the dining hall with no limit, it is more likely that they will remain on campus for meals rather than buying their own food. Barros mentions the social spaces that dining halls serve as, which is especially welcoming during the isolating period of time that spring break can be for students remaining on campus. During Spring Break, the Houses and different organizations on campus held events for students who remained on campus. Abdulkadir notes that the Pforzheimer community made him feel welcome and provided him with home-cooked meals during the break.
The administration recognizing the dilemma that accessing food can pose for students who remain on campus without the resources to afford the high prices of the square is a step in the right direction. However, the dining hall system currently in-place term-time sets an astute example for how to provide for low-income students during breaks as well.
Hunter Richards ’18 (email@example.com) hopes we continue in this direction.