Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The introduction of the OneCard system has had noticeable positive effects on student lives: greater incentive to go into the Ville, the ability to monitor meals and points balance, and greater flexibility in dining options.
But the effects have not all been positive. Swarthmore’s student-run café, Paces, has fallen under hard times since OneCard’s introduction due to greater competition with both on and off campus dining options.
Raffaella Luzi Stoutland ‘17, head director of Paces, has been managing the student-run café since her sophomore year. She oversees the café and its operations and described her position as more of a “moderating” role than a delegating role. Currently, she is managing Paces’ finances.
“We [Paces] specifically hired an Econ person for [finance management], but I’ve been in the café long enough to know what it entails.” Currently, Luzi Stoutland oversees expenditures and purchases, as well as the training process of new directors, along with weekly budget updates.
When asked how the finances at Paces have changed since the introduction of the OneCard system, Luzi Stoutland said, “It’s been rough.”
According to Luzi Stoutland, Paces has seen a 30% decrease in income. “We are earning […] close to $200-400 less a week than we used to, which in our small budget is pretty, pretty important,” she said.
Increased dining venues under the OneCard system have put Paces at a disadvantage.
Luzi Stoutland expressed that students now have more convenient dining options that accept OneCard, whereas before, students were limited to card-only services: Sharples and Essie Mae’s. “As far as competition, we came right under that, and now we also have to come under Hobbs, CoOp, Renatos, Dunkin Donuts, so we’ve sort of become a last consideration, I think, for a lot of students,” Luzi Stoutland said.
Luzi Stoutland also expressed that the café’s cash and credit-only payment policy has decreased its appeal to students.“It’s impacted mostly the amount of people we can get to actually show up and spend real money and not monopoly money,” she said.
While having Paces put on the OneCard seems like an easy solution to the problem, the process for achieving this is rather complicated.
Paces has been trying to get onto the meal plan for five years, but the Swarthmore meal plan only includes that which falls under “dining services”.
“Unless you are willing to submit to dining services, which would mean relinquishing a lot of the student power and the student […] initiative and directive of the café, you can’t be on the meal plan. That was the reason we weren’t on before, and cash and credit were the only other options, basically,” explained Luzi Stoutland.
However, Paces has not given up on the OneCard system. Paces has been working with their staff supervisor, Andrew Barclay, to prepare “business plans and financial projections to present to the OneCard,” said Luzi Stoutland.
Paces is trapped in a bitter cycle of having to prove to OneCard that they are a “financially sustainable and a profitable investment,” according to Luzi Stoutland.
Despite this Catch-22, Luzi Stoutland expressed that administration has been supportive of Paces, but much of the café’s staff have been attempting to express to administration the enormous amount of pressure they’ve placed on the student-run business.
Workers at Paces are trapped in a bind between asking administration to recognize their plight as students upholding a struggling business and Paces’ actual sustainability.
“I think it’s kind of a struggle to both let administration know that, ‘hey, we’re just students, like this is a hard job,’ but to also let them know that […]just because we’re students doesn’t mean we can’t run a business,” said Luzi Stoutland.
Luzi Stoutland was unable to provide a date for when Paces would transition to the OneCard program, but she hopes for next semester. Much of the efforts towards getting OneCard on board involve quelling rumors that have circulated amongst administration.
According to Luzi Stoutland, misinformation about Paces has spread amongst both students and administration that Paces serves alcohol, which she credits as a confusion between the business of Paces and its venue use for Pub Nite “While students frequent the café because we’re open so late at night, we’ve had very little administrators actually come into the space, and so very few actually know what it is in concrete,” said Luzi Stoutland.
Despite the misinformation, she asserted that administration has nonetheless been supportive.
While the Swarthmore OneCard has given students choices between a late night meal at Essie’s or a sushi run at Bamboo Bistro, it has also posed larger challenges to the student body about supporting traditions they value, how hard they are willing to work to maintain these student institutions, and the continuous balancing act of responsibilities. Closing the gap between students and administration is a huge step in tackling these challenges. Paces may be just the place for this change to happen.