Last week, University Housing introduced controversial changes to its dining plan, altering the longstanding “pay as you go” policy. The proposed changes would require students living in dorms to add a minimum of $1,400 to their dining hall account per year. Though University Housing defended the proposal as a way to budget spending and promote healthy dining choices, the program was met with near-unanimous disapproval.
The new policy stands in stark contrast to the University Housing’s supposed commitment to diversity and inclusion. University Housing’s statement on inclusive communities emphasizes breaking down barriers, declaring a focus “on the needs of each individual to create a culture of respect and civility.”
University Housing’s decision, however, fails to recognize the unique needs of its students. Though the new plan was proposed in the name of diversity and transparency, it ignores the situations of low-income students, those with medical dietary restrictions and those with religious dietary requirements.
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The Center for Religion and Global Citizenry joins many other students and organizations in voicing opposition to University Housing’s new policy. As a new addition to campus this fall, the Center seeks to increase religious literacy of students at the University of Wisconsin and their ability to communicate across boundaries of faith. The Center for Religion and Global Citizenry hopes to further shed light on the ways the mandatory deposits into dining hall accounts isolates students of faith on campus.
Many students who follow kosher and halal dietary restrictions have few options at dining halls on campus. Kosher dietary laws, called Kashrut, are standards observed within the community about foods and how they are prepared. The most well-known requirements are that meat and dairy products cannot mix, and that pork is forbidden from consumption.
Halal refers to what is permissible under Islamic law, and is often applied to food. Like kosher laws, pork is forbidden. There are other circumstances such as the source of food and the environment of its creation that determine whether it is halal or haram (forbidden). These definitions often overlap with kosher law. Because of this, the existence of kosher food on campus provides dining options for both Muslim and Jewish students who observe dietary restrictions.
Currently, there are a limited number of halal or kosher options available within two residence halls, Dejope and Gordon. The restaurant Adamah provides a pre-packaged, kosher soup and salad option to the dining halls. The pre-packaged items do not receive the resident hall discount.
Despite the existing options for students observing dietary restrictions, University Housing has been reluctant to do more for its community. The changes to dining policy introduced by University Housing will force students with religious dietary restrictions to spend money on a dining plan that does not service them. Asking students to spend upwards of $1,400 on the same two soups and salads without providing alternatives is a direct contradiction of the University Housing diversity statement.
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In addition to disportionately impacting Muslim, Jewish and other religiously-observant students on campus, the mandatory deposit will force many low-income students to spend beyond their means. The policy also harms students with limited dining options due to health conditions.
For these reasons, the changes to University Housing dining policy should not proceed. Serious evaluation of the standards used to determine these changes should be conducted. The voices of students are imperative to fostering a welcoming, diverse community on campus.
As members of the faith community, we urge readers to sign the Petition Against Mandatory $1,400 University Housing and Dining Policy, created by students and alumni who feel their voices have been ignored in this process.
Most important in this discussion is the need for increased transparency. UW students deserve to know about changes to their dining options, and should be given the opportunity to be active participants in the creation of new policies. At the end of the day, diversity and inclusion should be a conversation —not a top-down policy.
Julia Brunson and Emma Sayner are interfaith scholars with the Center for Religion and Global Citizenry.