O'Donoghue: Deserving More from DDS

by Gabrielle ODonoghue | 5/14/15 7:05pm

There are few things on this campus that incite more animosity and complaints than Dartmouth Dining Services. As many of us already know, good ol’ DDS is ripping us off — and not just a penny here and a penny there. DDS makes millions in yearly profits, as recorded in auxiliary income reports and by DDS direcor David Newlove’s unfortunate LinkedIn profile.

Our current executive vice president and chief financial officer Richard Mills, however, said that the profits that DDS makes are circulated back into the system to cover the other expenses that students cost the College. We are, apparently, very expensive to educate, feed and house. But does that justify exorbitant food service prices? I think not.

As an experiment for a sociology class I took last year, I investigated how our meal plans compared to the real world — that is, a world outside Dartmouth, an elite Ivy League institution. Using the “SNAP”, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program eligibility tool online, I determined the amount of money I could get on food stamps in the state of New Hampshire. The algorithm asked how much my weekly income was, how much money I had in my bank account, if I had a vehicle and if I had any dependents or other expenses. After truthfully filling out each question, the program’s website informed me that I was eligible for $49 of weekly aid for my groceries. This amount of money might not seem like much, but wait and see.

My current meal plan, the “SmartChoice 7,” amounts to roughly $140 a week for food on campus. Though this amount is nominally higher than the aid given by SNAP, the inflated prices through DDS cause it to effectively be equivalent, if not less. At the West Lebanon Walmart, a Chobani Greek yogurt costs just one dollar, compared to three dollars at the East Wheelock Snack Bar. Being the bargain hunter I am, I compared food prices for 10 common items including a quart of milk, Vitaminwater, Lean Cuisine, Stouffer’s, strawberries and a few others on campus to those at the local Walmart. The results are nauseating. On average, those 10 items are almost three times more expensive to purchase on campus than off.

Although to many students on this campus, DBA is imaginary money their parents willingly shell out to this school, some students — including myself — feel the burden of funding our meal plans. I pay for all my college expenses myself, including my meal plan. Every dollar I spend on it is a real dollar that I worked hard to earn. I find it offensive that our institution deems it appropriate to charge me food prices three times higher than those found outside our little Hanover bubble. That real money, that money I spent time sacrificing study hours and time with my friends to earn, could go toward many other worthy causes — such as my tuition.

Although the school has been very generous by covering the majority of my tuition, I still need to work and take out loans to cover all my expenses. Being a student burdened by these financial responsibilities tarnishes my Dartmouth experience with unnecessary stress. If our administrators truly cared about the well-being of all the College’s students, they would consider how the simple action of inflating the price of our meals causes many negative downstream effects for students struggling with socioeconomic issues.

Some may argue that they easily end each term with extra DBA in their accounts. I implore these students to seriously reflect on how they end up with that extra balance. Do they get to go eat off campus often and enjoy some margaritas at Molly’s on a typical Friday night? Do they order EBAs when they are too tired to walk to the dining hall? Do their parents ship wonderful care packages filled to the brim with goodies on which to snack? Many students who struggle with financial issues do not have these luxuries of eating off campus or ordering food in. Many have parents who cannot afford to mail them filling snacks they can munch on in their rooms. Many students plagued by socioeconomic difficulties must adhere to their meal plans and buy astonishingly expensive food every single day. We do not have the luxury of eating out often and are therefore more likely to use all of our DBA, or in some cases even go negative, thus owing this institution even more money that many of us just do not have.

Now let’s go back and review the math here. I get roughly three times as much on my SmartChoice 7 meal plan to spend on food here than I do on food stamps — yet, food at Dartmouth is almost three times more expensive. In simple terms, my meal plan at Dartmouth — one of the most highly regarded institutions in the nation — is roughly equivalent to food stamps in the state of New Hampshire. Should we as students allow our administrators to offer programs no better than supplemental government aids? We must demand more from DDS, and they must finally begin to listen. Because I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep up with all of this academic rigor on an empty stomach.