The DBA Debacle

While some students have enough dining dollars and swipes to become a ‘DBA Daddy’ by the end of the term, others are struggling to get by.

by Connor Allen and Allison Burg | 11/17/21 2:25am

by Alexandra Ma / The Dartmouth

Before we begin, we should explain our respective backgrounds. The two of us share some commonalities — we both live in the Mid Fayerweather dorm and call southwestern Connecticut home. Yet, there is one shocking, irreconcilable difference between us — while Ally has budgeted well this term, with about 100 DBA left, Connor has negative 42.57. 

Aside from instilling our readership with a sense of sympathy for poor Connor, the differences in our experiences with DBA this term are representative of the broader student body and the range of ways students utilize DBA. From those who save up for a pre-finals splurge to the helplessly financially illiterate (i.e. Connor) who can’t stop ordering ahead at the Hop’s Courtyard Cafe to skip the line, students use DBA — also known as dining dollars — in very different ways.

There are a few different meal plans at Dartmouth, including the Ivy Unlimited plan, which grants so-called unlimited access to Foco, as well as the option to use a swipe equivalency during each mealtime. The plan also includes a pool of 250 DBA each term. While meal swipes cover one Foco meal or a certain allotted portion of each mealtime expense, DBA can be used for just about everything at dining locations, including but not limited to Collis bubble tea or late night Novack coffee. As a ubiquitous part of Dartmouth life, DBA is ingrained into the student culture, as evidenced by the term “DBA Daddy” — a generous friend who is willing to spend their extra DBA on the less fortunate (or more hungry). Still, in the same way that students utilize their DBA in various ways, opinions are equally split.

Many are frustrated with the policy that freshmen are required to be on the Ivy Unlimited plan for all three terms of their first year, which is the most expensive meal plan but allows for less flexibility in DBA expenditure. Andrew Cho ’25 expressed his annoyances with the Ivy Unlimited plan.  

“To be honest, forcing every freshman to go Unlimited really sucks,” Cho said. “A lot more freshmen are going to other places instead of Foco . . . [that] might be closer or better quality. But, I guess they have to make every freshman have the Unlimited plan because that’s how they make Foco run.”

This is a common complaint: Students often crave foods that Foco doesn’t necessarily offer. Even when there are options that students want, the Ivy Unlimited plan does not allow for flexibility in timing. Seriously, how often do you see college students up before 11:30 on a Saturday morning for breakfast? 

Miller Hawkesby ’24 expressed concern over not being able to use a meal swipe for both a late breakfast and a lunch, as they fall within the same meal period. 

Aidan Stuart ’23 agreed, and proposed an explanation for Dartmouth Dining Services’ insistence that freshmen are on the Ivy Unlimited plan. 

“[DDS does not] want anyone to be hungry, so they want to force people to be on the meal plan that will ensure that they will always have a place to eat — but at the same time, it is the meal plan that if you don’t utilize it the most, it is helpful for them,” Stuart said. “It gives you less freedom; it’s restrictive in its own way that kind of [generates] profits [for] DDS.”

So, the Ivy Unlimited plan can be somewhat counterintuitive, with many feeling particularly limited by its so-called “Unlimited” nature. Maybe all that is required is a renaming — though, “limited plan” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. Still, there remain more serious objections to the DBA system.

For one, is a small cup of grapes truly worth 6.25 DBA? Heartbreakingly, this limits Dartmouth’s most avid grape consumers to just 40 cups per term on the Ivy Unlimited plan, unless they’d like to spend almost an entire lunch swipe. Jokes aside, some DDS items seem quite overpriced, completely limiting — again, this is the “Unlimited” plan we are discussing — students’ ability to make use of the 250 DBA they are allotted on the plan. 

Vicki Peterlin ’24 noted that the prices for food items are “so expensive,” making it difficult for students to stay within their DBA budget while also getting meals that will “sustain” them. 

Moreover, Foco can be a time commitment, and the options get repetitive; as Connor and Ally — both gluten-free — can attest to, there are only so many times you can eat chicken and cereal (not together, of course). Yet, in order to enjoy the stir fry of Collis or the salads of the Hop, the sacred DBA must be used, as most options at these dining locations cost above the allotted meal swipe amounts. As Peterlin noted, it is “hard for students to get a meal that’s sustainable and healthy and what they’re craving without going over their meal swipe.” 

Despite high food prices, many students end the term with leftover Dining Dollars. As only 100 DBA carries over into the next term, finals week for some is concluded with a hurried scramble of desperately trying to spend their remaining DBA or, of course, trying to become another fortunate soul’s DBA Daddy. The Novack Cafe workers, according to Stuart, embrace this sentiment as they “get paid partly in dining dollars,” so they tend to spot their friends or help pay for students who are “really in the negatives when they are ordering.”

Along with these acts of kindness, many students rack up on snacks; Miller tends to buy a bunch of candy, while Stuart recalls “leaving [Novack] with 70 packs of gum” his freshman year. Needless to say, his breath smelled wonderful that summer.

On a more serious note, Nov. 10 to Nov. 12 saw the 21F Swipes for Hunger event, which allowed students to donate a meal swipe, 10 DBA or DA$H to Willing Hands, a nonprofit organization that provides fresh food to the Upper Valley food shelters. This term, the event raised $3,256. 

Stuart, the Head of Communications for Rotaract — the club that ran the event — attributed his desire for a DBA drive to his experiences at the end of his sophomore summer, where he witnessed students scrambling to spend up to 400 DBA in two days at the end of the term. Stuart believed that “this money can be used in a better way.” 

Of course, there is no shame in using up your DBA surplus on trip-back-home snacks. That said, you can use your DBA to spot your lowly, helpless friends or maybe donate your swipes to a good cause. DBA and swipes can be an odd system, but they are here to stay. So, make sure to take some lessons from this term and not end up like a certain one of us, who, at this point, is too ashamed to write his name again.