In an effort to bring students back to campus safely, the college reimagined the meal plan. Instead of choosing a plan, every on-campus student was provided with 250 meal swipes and $500 in Dining Dollars. On-campus options for the semester include Sharples, Essie Mae’s, Kohlberg Cafe, the Science Center Coffee Bar, and vending machines around campus – Crumb Cafe is closed for the duration of the semester. Notably, students were not given access to Swat Points this semester. Swat Points were added to Swarthmore meal plans in 2016 and could be used at various restaurants in the Ville. According to the Assistant Vice President for Auxiliary Services, Anthony Coschignano, the purpose of cancelling Swat Points was to encourage students to stay on campus, ensuring the safety of the wider campus community. To get food in the Ville, students will have to use their own money, outside of what they might already be paying for the meal plan.
The decision to cancel the Swat Points was made after a group of representatives from the college, including Coschignano, met with Ville shop owners. Discussions around the safest way to manage the College’s relationship with the Ville are ongoing.
“We met collectively with borough merchants, safely and in a physically distanced manner, in the Borough amphitheater, and followed up directly with participating merchants to discuss these necessary, temporary changes. We are working closely with each merchant on their renewed contracts for this coming year, and have been in regular contact with Town Center Board members who support our local merchants in the Ville,” explained Coschignano.
Since Fall 2016, Dining Dollars, Meal Swipes, and Swat Points could be used to eat at locations across campus and in the Ville. During weekends, when on-campus options were limited, your OneCard could get you a slice of pizza from Renato, a classic literature-themed sandwich from the CO-OP, or soup dumplings from Bamboo Bistro as late as midnight. Students are struggling with the lack of dining options on campus, especially on weekends and late at night, now that eating in the Ville is less accessible.
This isn’t the first time students have expressed that on-campus dining options were insufficient. After Essie Mae’s weekday hours were shortened and its weekend operations closed in Fall 2018, students signed a petition that called on Swarthmore to re-evaluate existing dining options. Using Swat Points in the Ville was one of the most affordable and accessible ways to supplement the seemingly lacking on-campus options. Now, more than ever, students believe the current on-campus options don’t meet their needs.
“[Swarthmore is] not letting us use points in the Ville, but at the same time the plan that they’ve created isn’t one that allows us to eat meals exclusively on campus,” said Ana Michels ‘23.
As with the previous two semesters, on-campus options for the weekend only include Sharples and the Science Center Coffee Bar. However, students now have to reserve times to eat at Sharples. Unfamiliarity surrounding the reservation process has left students scrambling to find last-minute meals. The Science Center Coffee Bar does allow students to freely grab food, but the options are limited Chinese or Indian meals and snacks. Now, forgetting to reserve a spot at Sharples on Saturday night is prompting the students who can afford to eat in the Ville to do so.
Many students admitted they were spending more of their own money than usual. Although the meal plan equates to the same dollar value as past plans, options are more limited. Rebecca Putnam ‘23 explained that being discouraged from buying groceries at the CO-OP forced her to plan her meals more meticulously.
“Because our dining options are limited on campus, and we don’t have Swat Points to use in the Ville, I’ve been trying to plan meals ahead and coordinate when I want to go to [the Science Center] or Essie’s for food. If students didn’t like Sharples options in the past, it was really easy to get food in the Ville instead,” said Putnam.
The timing of the communication from Swarthmore also made it difficult to plan for the altered dining experience. Students had until August 21 to pay the bill for the semester, a binding agreement to attend in the Fall. The email about residential living that detailed the meal plan, including the suspension of Swat Points, however, was sent out August 28.
“The way that Swarthmore set up the meal plan was frustrating because there was only one option which we became aware of after planning to stay on campus, so we had not been well informed beforehand. The meal plan would not change my decision to stay on campus but the inability to use points off-campus definitely limits the ability to find alternative food options, especially when the meals at Sharples are already somewhat restricted,” Alice Onyango-Opiyo ’23 wrote in an email to The Phoenix. “Students who need simple grocery store items off campus now have to use their own money compared to being able to use the point system last semester, which I was personally grateful for alleviating a small financial burden.”
The students are not the only ones adjusting to the new meal plan. Ville owners are suffering losses during a time when business would usually be booming. Shop owners in the Ville have noticed fewer students coming into their restaurants. During the academic year, students supply a healthy amount of business for the restaurants in the Ville, and owners have had to face consequences.
“[Swarthmore Dunkin Donuts] wants [Swarthmore students] back,” said Bhavana Patel, Manager of Dunkin’ Donuts.
Restaurant owners anticipated a change in students’ spending habits. Sean from Renato feared that without the funds from Swat Points, students would buy cheaper options or elect not to eat there at all. Holly Hutton, a CO-OP employee, has noticed more students stocking up on pantry items instead of perishable items such as sandwiches and sushi. Hutton also noted that the lunch and dinner rushes at the CO-OP have slowed down significantly.
“We definitely have seen a slow down in the lunch rushes. Last year around lunchtime you had whole sports teams come out, sit down, and eat lunch together. Also throughout the day, and at dinner time when the dining halls were shut down, and on the weekend people were coming to get sushi. We’ve definitely felt the impact of that,” said Hutton.
In spite of the negative effects on their businesses, the CO-OP and Hobbs were willing to accept losses to keep everyone — including students, Swarthmore residents, and their employees — safe.
“[The CO-OP] did know that there would be some form of a loss but we had to take into account the people of the town and our other customers. We’re doing all that we can and working with the college to keep everybody safe,” explained Hutton.
Hobbs, a favorite Ville spot among students, has remained closed for the majority of the COVID crisis. Will Randall, the owner of Hobbs, explained that the safety of their employees and customers is the driving force behind keeping their doors shut.
“I’m happy the college is making steps to encourage the students to remain on campus,” echoed Randall.
Currently, there are no plans to reinstate Swat Points. The College continues to collaborate with Ville shop owners and residents in efforts to keep the community-at-large safe.
Updated information on dining services can be found on the Dash.