Laursen: UI dining can be different

Students living in the residence halls should not be required to have a meal plan.


Ashley Morris

Catlett Dining Hall as seen on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017.

Lucee Laursen, Opinions Editor

It seems like just yesterday I was filling out my dorm survey to pair me with my freshman-year roommate. I remember I had only visited the UI once before, so when it came to choosing our dorm room, I let my roommate make the decision. Just like that, we found ourselves living on the second floor of Slater Hall and with it came a choice: What meal plan would I decide to get?

The University Housing & Dining gives students who live in most dorms two options: the Gold or Black meal plan. Specifics can be found on Housing & Dining’s website. But one thing never really ran through my mind — is it normal to require all students living in residence halls to have meal plans?

RELATED: UI chef wins $10K and a trip to France in major recipe competition

I conducted a Twitter poll earlier this week to ask just that; 60 percent of the 90 people who responded to my poll said no, it is not normal that the UI requires its residents to have a university meal plan. Moreover, similar schools like Wisconsin-Madison do not require their residents to acquire meal plans. In fact, Madison doesn’t even offer meal plans; instead, its dining halls feature à la carte meals in which people pay for individual food items.

As it stands now, UI students living in residence halls must get meal plans that allow either 14 or unlimited meals a week. This means, for the most part, if students living in the residence halls decide to go off campus for meals, they most likely are wasting the money they spent on their UI meal plans.

RELATED: Catlett Dining Hall closed on weekends due to low turnout and decreased enrollment

I understand why the UI requires its residents to have meal plans. Without the program, there is no telling how much money Housing & Dining would lose. But if the UI changed its dining halls to include à la carte items instead of just an all-one-can-eat buffet price, more upperclassmen would be inclined to eat in UI dining halls.

Let’s face it, UI Dining has one major advantage: convenience. Weaving in and out of classrooms and meetings, I seldom have time to go home or downtown during the day to get a meal. And because I don’t typically plan ahead well, I don’t bring my lunch from home. This leaves me with UI dining options. And though I am typically ably to find something with the limited options at the IMU, library, Tippie, or the food truck, I never even considered going to Catlett or Burge for a meal.

Why? Well, because, it costs $10.50 to swipe into the all-you-can-eat buffet at Catlett or Burge for lunch or dinner. And though Catlett and Burge are chock-full of yummy options I would prefer over the ones offered at the aforementioned locations, it isn’t very affordable to consistently swipe into the dining halls. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. If the UI sold its items using an à la carte system, it could encourage thousands of upper classmen to eat at the dining hall. And students living in the residence halls could have more options to choose from instead of getting stuck in a rut at the dining halls. I know it is possible to change the way the UI looks at dinning; I hope that one day students will finally be cut free from the chains of Housing & Dining.