VCU dining plans are now worth less

Shafer Court Dining Center's pizza and pasta stand. Photo by Andrew Kerley.

Selna Shi, News Editor

Andrew Kerley, Audience Editor

VCU students with dining plans can no longer use the “swipe exchange” to pay for meals this fall semester, according to VCU Business Services communications specialist Anna Obermiller.

Swipes were previously exchangeable for specific, set meal options that typically consisted of an entree, a side and a beverage. 

With the exception of the Shafer Court and AVO Kitchen dining halls, students can now only use the “Build Your Own” swipe option, which allows students to exchange swipes for an amount of food worth between $6.98 and $9.40, according to Obermiller. 

Students living in residence halls are required to purchase a dining plan option, according to VCU Dining Services.

“We replaced Swipe Exchange entirely with BYO Swipe to give students more flexibility to create meals not restricted to a fixed menu,” Obermiller said. 

Junior marketing student and women’s soccer midfielder Kanna Matsuhisa said the new plan’s flexibility lets her pick all of the specific toppings she wants.

“Last semester, it used to be like one already built meal and I would have to choose from those options,” Matsuhisa said. “Now I can be more flexible, so I kind of like it.”

Sophomore fashion design student Cedar Krisch said most of the meals they swipe for amount to around an extra dollar.

Students can pay any remaining balance with dining dollars, cash, credit, debit or Ram Bucks, according to Obermiller.

Sophomore forensic science student Kyle Livingood said the constant changes to menu pricing is frustrating.

“I just want to know, like, ‘Can I get a drink with this or can I not?’” Livingood said. “It has been unclear if it [a drink] would be an extra charge. I like the old plan because you would just go to a restaurant, use a swipe and get your meal. You didn’t have to worry about using dining dollars or anything extra.”

Livingood was not aware of the changes when he bought his dining plan.

“I would have liked some sort of disclaimer or something on the website that says, ‘Hey, by the way, it’s only build-your-own [swipe] now,’” Livingood said.

Anaya Wright, a junior health, physical education and exercise student, said she went to AVO Kitchen last week expecting the dining place to have to-go boxes, but was told that the eatery is now dine-in only.

“I used my swipe and said [to AVO employee] I’ll get my tacos to-go and they were like ‘we don’t do to-go anymore,’” Wright said. “They’re forcing students to eat in there and then they wouldn’t give me my swipe back, which kind of sucked.”

Wright expressed that she likes the new “build your own” swipe option because it allows her to be flexible with her options, but she said the dining options at VCU are not good.

Around 10,000 students experience food insecurity at VCU and less than 1% of students use university resources to deal with food insecurity, according to social works professor Youngmi Kim.

Food insecurity is defined as “inadequate access to affordable and nutritious foods due to limited financial resources,” according to Kim. Kim has been researching food insecurity on college campuses for the past five years. 

“There is some stigma feelings and many students feel like they do not deserve to use food pantries,” Kim said.

In Kim’s 2022 study on food insecurity at VCU, it was found that the limited access to healthy food in campus dining halls was a contributor to some students’ food insecurity. 

Students can donate food to VCU’s “Little Ram Pantries.” Photo by Andrew Kerley.

Junior psychology student Joy Doosey said she goes to AVO a lot because it’s “healthier” than other dining places.

“Whenever I go to AVO, I feel like I need healthy food, because otherwise all the other [dining] places were, like, fast food places,” Doosey said. “So many of the dining locations just sell, like, fries and chicken.”

However, the distance from the first-year residence halls and central Monroe Park campus area discourages Doosey and other students to go to AVO.

“[The distance] It’s crazy. I live in West Grace South right now and yesterday I walked there [AVO], it was horrible and it was so hot outside,” Doosey said.

Another student, Fobi Gyasi, said AVO is the only place she can think of when it comes to a healthy and vegetarian option.

“If you’re vegetarian, you can’t get anything,” Gyasi said. “I get Chipotle every single week. I got a lot of Grubhub my first-year.”

Kim surveyed 13 students last semester who have used the Little Ram Pantry. Little Ram Pantry is a program separate from Ram Pantry, in which pantries are spread throughout campus.

No first-year students were part of the survey, but Kim expects to include first-year students in her next survey in the upcoming spring semester.

Another first-year student, Haneke Aguilar, said it’s hard to find healthy options on campus.

“I don’t know how healthy you can get when you can go to the restaurants around you,” Aguilar said. “It’s not like we have a kitchen.” 

Kim’s 2022 study also noted having easy access to healthy foods on-campus should be a priority and this includes giving students access to a kitchen.

Aguilar currently lives in Brandt, a first-year residence hall that does not include a kitchen. West Grace South, Gladding Residence Center and The Honors College are the only first-year residence halls that include kitchens.

First-year biology student Megan Vo said the dining options could be worse.

“I’ve seen other colleges where they only had dining halls and nothing else. That sucks, it sounds terrible,” Vo said.

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