Dining Dollar Use Banned for Non-Food Items

The Wellness Wendy vending machine located on the base floor of Union. Photo Credit Sydney Schertz ’24

EDITORIAL STAFF

Facing student backlash for a policy change, Davidson College Dining Services, Auxiliary Services, and administration look for a plan B. So, it seems, do students.

On March 2, Alona Webb-Newton ’23, Lyra Seaborn ’22, and Mattie Baird ’25 co-authored a Perspectives article titled “Too Afraid of Some Plan B: Demanding Action on Access to Sexual Health Resources.” The piece details Davidson’s chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action (PPGA)’s campaign to enable CatCard access on their Wellness Wendy, a vending machine on the bottom floor of Alvarez College Union that sells “essential sexual wellness products—namely, Plan B—at discounted rates.” The writers, all on the executive board of PPGA and its Wellness Wendy action committee, argue
that use of Dining Dollars on the Wellness Wendy machine will allow students of all backgrounds to access emergency contraception, and other sexual wellness items, as needed.

This fight for accessibility was met with further restrictions.

PPGA contacted Richard Terry, Director of Auxiliary Services, in hopes of obtaining the use of Dining Dollars in the Wellness Wendy vending machine in Union. Terry said that reproductive health products are not food, so they cannot be purchased with Dining Dollars. The PPGA countered this by
arguing that reproductive health products are no different than any other “non-food” item that can be purchased at Commons Market.

According to the PPGA, in response Terry “threatened to institute a new policy restricting all students from purchasing non-food items with Dining Dollars. Given that the main objective of the Wellness Wendy team is to increase accessibility to essential health items for all students, we responded to Terry, saying that it would be incredibly counterproductive to further restrict which items students are permitted to purchase with their Dining Dollars. We requested that he not discontinue the practice of allowing students to purchase non-food items with Dining Dollars [..] After weeks of our questions being passed back and forth between administrators without consistent answers, we were finally notified that a decision had been reached: Dining Dollars will no longer be able to be used to purchase any non-food items, including those at Commons Market . Instead, these products will only be available through one’s declining balance (which essentially functions as a campus gift card that parents/guardians add funds to), credit/ debit card, or cash,” Webb-Newton, Seaborn, and Baird wrote.

On Monday, March 28, Davidson College Dining Services officially announced via their Instagram account (@davidsoncolledining) that they would no longer accept Dining Dollars for ‘non-food items.’ PPGA mobilized almost immediately to overturn this decision.

“We currently have a petition demanding […] Dining Dollars for All,” Webb-Newton shared. “At the moment we have 592 signatures, however we need to have at least a third of the Davidson community sign the petition to pressure the administration to overturn their decision.” Students can find the petition in the PPGA’s Instagram bio (@davidsonppga).

The Wellness Wendy Committee is also currently working alongside Lula Bells, the Health Center, Center for Civic Engagement, and the Dean of Students office to try and provide students with fair and equitable access to sexual health products. Along with this, “a few tour guides have also suspended their services until the issue is remedied,” said Seaborn.

moving forward

Almost immediately after the decision was announced, the news spread across campus, sparking harsh student backlash in the form of over 100 comments under the Instagram post.

“This change removes access to products that students need for personal wellbeing,” said Shawn An ’24, a member of the Dining Services Committee. “Several of my friends were dependent on this resource.”

Director of Dining Services Pinky Varghese started the Dining Services Committee this academic year to improve lines of communication between students and administration. Despite meeting a few times last semester, according to An they “have yet to meet at all in this second semester of the 2021-2022 year.”

“Pinky blatantly disregarded the very committee he established to prevent this issue and pushed out a policy change with no consultation or consideration of the student perspective,” An said.

Dr. Susan Roberts, Davidson Professor of Political Science and professor of POL 423 Politics of Reproduction, commented on the lack of student involvement in the decision. “It concerns me that there’s been a reluctance to engage in some of these discussions that leads students to a lot of questions about why the decision was made, and why it was made without some sort of direct conversation,” she said. “It leads me to wonder whether this is a financial decision, a bureaucratic decision, or a moralistic decision.”

An also highlighted issues related to choosing Instagram as a communication source.

“We as students deserved to find out about this change in a more official capacity than Instagram. E-mail. Posters or flyers in Commons. Something other than one Instagram post on a random Monday that had no explanation attached,” he said. “The method in which they communicated this in itself leads to the problem of accessibility: some students may not have cell phones or social media accounts so how were they supposed to find out?”

Tea davidsonian editorial staff feels Varghese has a number of questions regarding the reasoning behind the decision and different administrative bodies involved. However, Varghese only elected to share his thoughts on using Instagram as the form of communication.

“We use social media for communicating important matters pertaining to our dining locations,” he said.

Representing a frustrated student body, members of the SGA have been in conversation with members of the admin both to unearth the reasoning behind the policy change and advocate for a decision reversal—that, or find some sort of alternate solution.

Student Body President Israel Palencia ’23 alongside Class President and Dining Services Committee Member Steve Mirabello ’25 spoke about the SGA’s efforts to reverse this decision.

“SGA has met with Dean McCrae [Vice President for Student Life, Dean of Students]Ann McCorvey [Vice President for Finance, Administration and CFO]and Richard Terry” trying to “advocate[e] for this decision’s reversal,” explained Mirabello.

Palencia has been communicating specifically with McCorvey and Terry. According to his understanding of communication from the administration, the decision ensures that students do not “have to choose between purchasing a meal or an essential item…[they] did not want students to have to make this choice as dining plans are meant to help prevent food insecurity,” Palencia said. “[McCorvey and Terry] were very collaborative when talking about possible solutions and are figuring out ways to help students while still maintaining the goals of dining services.”

The PPGA maintains that the flexibility of Dining Dollar usage should be dependent upon student opinion.

“[This decision] makes me believe that [Auxiliary Services] revoked all Dining Dollars on non-food items to ensure that sexual health products such as Plan B could not be purchased using the tuition and meal plans that students pay for,” states Webb-Newton.

Comments From the College

Seaborn emphasized that, despite the PPGA’s best efforts to contact Auxiliary Services, the department has neglected to respond to the PPGA or address student messages.

Webb-Newton highlighted how Auxiliary Services is arguing that Dining Dollars were never meant to be used on non-food items at Commons Market. However, she found that Auxiliary Services has allowed for Dining Dollars to be used for non-food items in the past. “In 2017, Davidson had a store similar to Commons Market, called the Union Station, where students could use their dining dollars to purchase any items, including non-food items,” said Webb-Newton.

Jay Pfeifer, Director of Media Relations, provided insight to the administration’s perspective on the matter. He explained that although Dining Dollars have been used previously for items such as toiletries that are available for purchase at Commons Market, students using Dining Dollars for both food and other items was contradicting the purpose of the school-issued currency. “Students should never have to choose between food and other necessities,” said Pfeifer.

Pfeifer argues that reproductive health products pose the same problem. He understands the need for these “non-food” items can result in students sacrificing their meals for other products. Additionally, he contends that the dual function of dining dollars forces students “to choose between food and health care.”

The administration emphasized their commitment to reproductive health and are now working with the students to find a way to make products such as toiletries, utensils, and reproductive health products more easily accessible.

“The College has worked closely with student groups to make reproductive health products as accessible as possible,” said Pfeifer. “Most recently, the Center for Student Health and Well-Being partnered with the Davidson chapter of PPGA to connect them to a supplier that provides emergency contraception at a much lower price.”

Still, until a mutually-agreeable conclusion is reached, the question of true accessibility to both food and resources remains unanswered.

“I fully believe this was done to prevent student groups like us from advocating for expansions of Dining Dollars’ reach,” Seaborn continued. “Now, we’ve been forced to explore and pursue different avenues for attaining our goal of making Plan B and the other products in Wellness Wendy and Commons Market accessible to all students regardless of financial status.”

Due to time constraints when writing this article, the quotes above—excluding those by Dr. Roberts—are from email correspondences.

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