Following a pilot program last year that kept two dining halls open during spring break, a new plan is in the cards this year. According to Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, the College plans to reshuffle its meal plan for undergraduates who choose to stay on campus this spring break, closing all House dining halls and giving students on high levels of financial aid cash stipends for their meals. The new system—which will allot $225 stipends for the nine-day break—contrasts with last year’s decision to keep two House dining halls operating normally.
This proposal is a productive one. It marks a new solution to the challenge of feeding students who elect to stay on campus over break. The stipend system gives students greater flexibility than they had last spring break, for example, when only Currier House and Dunster House’s dining halls were open. This dining plan, however, does have its issues and raises larger questions about the term-time student dining system.
Primarily, the stipend is inadequate. $25 per day is not sufficient for three full meals, especially considering Harvard Square’s high prices. It is reasonable to suspect that many students will end up paying out of pocket to supplement these funds.
The stipend also broaches the larger question of whether Harvard’s mandatory undergraduate meal plan is the best system. Students are now required to pay for all 21 HUDS meals per week, despite the fact that hardly anyone eats three meals a day in a dining hall. Between missed breakfasts and meals dined out, it is rare that a student makes the most of each of these meals that they are required to pay for. More flexible options, such as a partial meal plan, thus present a potential solution.
The spring break stipend system, however, reflects the value in giving students flexibility in their dining options and perhaps opens up the issue to conversation. Khurana plans to hold events over spring break, such as gatherings with pizza to make sure that students do not feel like House life has diminished over the break. We feel that the same argument extends naturally to the rest of the year. Lowering the burden of the meal plan would not be a big blow to House life like many fear.
Ultimately, the spring break dining plan still remains a work in progress. Last year’s system of keeping two House dining halls open was a pilot program in itself. And with the coming break, the College will have the chance to assess the merits of a new system. In any case, it will most likely take several steps of trial-and-error to find the right balance.
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