Gabriel Hergenroeder, a third-year student, was one of more than 2,600 UCLA undergraduates to respond to a survey on food accessibility disseminated on social media earlier by the Undergraduate Students Association Council’s General Representative 1 office.
Hergenroeder pondered the notion that his 19P meal plan was constrained by budgeting and physical separation from the Hill.
“Sometimes, due to my class load, I have to take a bunch of classes back to back, which leaves me with no time to run back to the Hill to get food for lunch,” Hergenroeder wrote. “This forces me to skip lunch or waste a swipe by getting food on campus.”
He added he tends to feel drained and exhausted by the end of the day because of this.
Hergenroeder’s experience is one of many students’ complaints about UCLA’s swipe policy. The rapidity with which the survey spread across social media speaks to the reverberant effects of hunger on campus.
This is not to suggest the university or UCLA Dining Services has not taken any steps to address the problem. The Grab ‘n’ Go option at Bruin Café and De Neve has allowed countless early-rising Bruins to bring sandwiches, salads, wraps and sides with them as they depart for class between 7-11 a.m. The service is a substantial step forward, allowing students to plan ahead and take entire meals with them. A lunchbox is even offered to preserve the contents for several hours.
Additionally, meal vouchers are offered to exchange foregone swipes for cash at on-campus food vendors. Students can take advantage of these vouchers at various front desks on the Hill. The value of these vouchers vary by specific location, with one swipe valued at $2.15 in on-campus restaurants or at $2.45 at Associated Students UCLA-operated ventures. While extremely low in value, the voucher is admittedly an effort to address student hunger.
But the presence of “swipes on campus” would be the most direct solution. The vouchers are unable to cover for nutritional food. And Grab ‘n’ Go is plagued by logistical constraints, with a boringly consistent number of options, limited availability and long lines. It is also an added burden for students to plot their meals so many hours in advance.
Contractual entanglements between the independent ASUCLA and UCLA Dining Services have served as a constant excuse against the general representative’s efforts to extend dining facilities to campus. This excuse is lazy, as each of the numerous conversations student activists attempt to conduct with the appropriate administrators are almost always rendered dead on arrival. Student calls for allowing swipes on campus have been unmatched in interest by their counterparts within UCLA Dining Services.
Higher education has become a center of public spending and private entrepreneurship. A billion-dollar industry encircles UCLA, extracting profit from students and organizations. It is a vulgarity that any participant in this money-riddled dynamic is allowed to go hungry. It is economically inefficient to place so many students at risk of being unproductive in their daily interactions, be they commercial or scholastic, because they cannot get quick access to nutritious food.
The issue comes down to the equitable distribution of resources. All we ask is that UCLA students should be able to take advantage of their meal plans any time. This should not be taken as a unilateral attack against the administration. A fair and balanced conversation on this issue, much like a fair and balanced meal is beneficial: It will gift all parties a valuable understanding, with which this problem can be resolved.
Benowitz is a first-year pre-political science student and a member of the General Representative 1 office.