As students trickled back onto campus in the early weeks of February, unpacking dusty boxes and decorating new dorm rooms, returning seniors and juniors learned the new rules that have governed mealtime at Swarthmore since the Fall semester under the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been a lot of changes, from the GET reservation system to the end of Kohlberg coffee bar actually selling coffee. One change that felt particularly impactful, however, was the suspension of the Swat Points system, which allowed on-campus students to dine at several well-loved restaurants in the Ville using the campus meal plan. Unlike several of the other changes to Dining Services, however, the reasoning for terminating this beloved program is unclear; there is no reason that Ville Points cannot be adapted to safely serve the campus community the same way that Essie Mae’s, Sharples, and the Science Center Coffee Bar have been. Swarthmore should bring back the Ville Points program for pickup-only, with orders placed over the phone or Internet.
The number of dining options on campus on any given night has decreased dramatically since students returned to campus in Fall 2020, especially for students with dietary restrictions. On weekdays, students can choose between the grill at Essie Mae’s, limited entrees at Sharples, and a catering option from one of three local restaurants at the Science Center. On weekends, the options are Sharples and the Science Center. The Dining Services staff puts great effort into providing students with diverse and delicious food, but the general reduction in offerings contributes to the COVID exhaustion that many on-campus students experienced in the Fall. Eating something special and changing the daily routine is one of the few ways to break the monotony of online school and differentiate the long days spent in our dorm rooms.
The Ville has always been a pleasant change from going to Sharples every night. We went for friends’ birthdays and date nights and just because we felt like doing something different. We went to Bamboo Bistro on crowded Friday nights and waved to friends from class; we went early on Saturdays to Hobbs for a bagel and a latte. Due to social distancing, it wouldn’t be possible to go into the restaurants, but it would certainly be possible to order food for pickup. The reinstatement of Ville Points would not require additional infrastructure: we could give our student ID number over the phone and arrange a precise time for pickup, then retrieve our wrapped bags of food from outside the restaurant.
While the elimination of Swat Points does not limit students with enough disposable income to patron the restaurants in the Ville, it is especially felt by low-income students who don’t have enough disposable income to eat there without Swat Points and therefore have no other options.The entire purpose of a cash-free campus is to decrease the disparity on campus between low-income students and students who are not low-income, but the lack of Swat Points only emphasizes these disparities in a time when many families are facing immense financial burdens. Asking friends to join you for brunch or a date to join you for dinner carried no concern about the invitees’ ability to spend money — it was a given that everyone on campus could eat out from time to time without any strain on their personal finances. Cancelling Swat points while permitting students to still visit the Ville only ensures that eating off-campus is accessible solely to students with disposable income.
The business from Swarthmore students is an important source of income to Ville restaurants that the restaurants have sorely missed, as The Phoenix reported last October. Students reported still visiting the Ville, but much less frequently as they now had to pay cash out of their own pockets. The Ville restaurants are an important part of our campus culture, so much of which has been lost over this past year. Walking down to pick up food is as safe or safer than visiting the Swarthmore Campus & Community Store, which is permitted. Swarthmore should reinstate Swat Points to be used for distanced pickup, both to support the businesses in our cherished community as well as to enrich the lives of students living on campus.