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Saint Mary’s announces new meal options, additional co-ex costs for next academic year

| Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Beginning in the 2019-2020 academic year, Saint Mary’s, in partnership with Sodexo, will be operating on a new dining plan.

Students were initially informed of the change through an email from vice president of student affairs Karen Johnson on Friday.

There will be multiple changes to dining services: hours of operation, choices for meal plans and the dinner co-exchange program with Notre Dame. The Noble Family Dining Hall currently closes in between meals but, starting in fall 2019, will be open continuously throughout the day. Currently, Monday through Friday breakfast is offered from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and lunch is offered from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., while Saturday and Sunday brunch is offered from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday dinner is offered from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Friday through Sunday dinner is offered from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Next academic year, the dining hall will remain open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, according to the email.

“We’ve had the same plans for years, and in doing a lot of research and working with Sodexo and other meal services, the continuous dining plan is really the future of dining,” Johnson said. “It gives students the chance to eat whenever they’re hungry, to come and go, use the dining hall as a study room, and a lot of schools are switching to that.”

Cristina Interiano | The Observer

Johnson added that the ability to eat whenever students desire is beneficial, as it allows for healthier eating habits and provides additional space for students to use.

“You will be able to use the dining hall all day long, you can go in and study if you want a quiet place, have coffee, you could have group project meetings in there throughout the day,” Johnson said. “It makes the dining hall another hangout place for our students.”

Currently, residential students have four options for meal plans: the Carte Blanche plan, offering unlimited swipes and $40 in Munch Money; the Option 14, with 14 meal swipes and $140 in Munch Money; the Option 10, with 10 meal swipes and $175 in Munch Money; the Option 7, with seven meal swipes and $250 in Munch Money. Meal swipes reset each week and do not carry over.

The new plans have just two options for residential students: the Continuous Dining Plan, with unlimited dining hall entry and $80 in Munch Money and five guest passes each semester, or the Option 160 Block, which offers 160 meal swipes per semester along with $175 in Munch Money and three guest passes, according to the email. The Option 160 Block averages out to about 10 meals a week, Johnson said, but students can choose to use them however they wish.

“We did the block 160 for people who are really not interested in [continuous dining], but we are hoping that once people see the value of being able to come and go … they’ll move toward the continuous dining,” she said.

The swipes do not reset each week but do not carry over from semester to semester, Johnson said.  

Non-residential students and seniors on campus have the option to purchase the Belles Blue plan, which remains the same from previous years. It offers 50 meals each semester and $60 in Munch Money.

The final change in dining services is in the dinner co-exchange program at Notre Dame, also known as the “co-ex” program. Currently, students can apply for the program, and approved students get tickets for dinner without additional charges. Starting next semester, students can opt into the Co-Ex Buy-Up Plan, which is $415 each semester and offers up to five meals a week at Notre Dame, according to the email.

“We have switched the co-ex to the student having to pay for that because people think that we just trade meals with Notre Dame, which we don’t,” Johnson said. “We have to pay for every meal the student eats at Notre Dame, and people also think that means that if they don’t eat here, we use the money that they didn’t use here to pay over there, but that’s also not true because we have to staff, manage the dining facilities, cook food, buy food, whether you are eating here or not. It’s based on the number of people who are on the meal plan.”

Johnson said students will no longer need to apply for approval for the program — it is available for any Saint Mary’s student who can foot the cost. While it can be seen as a bit of a cost to put on students, Johnson said the College looks forward to using the budget for the former co-ex program in a way that is useful to the entire Saint Mary’s community.

“In the past year or so, we have paid about $50,000 to Notre Dame for co-ex meals,” she said. “We just think that’s a lot of money to be paying out of the budget when we could be using it to pay for other things that meet the needs of all of our students.”

Sophomore Riley O’Mearns is a member of the Notre Dame Marching Band and currently uses the co-ex program. O’Mearns said she feels the new Co-Ex Buy-Up Program will take away from the experience of participating in marching band traditions such as section dinners and disadvantages those who do not have the additional funds to pay $830 dollars a year to eat at Notre Dame.

With co-exes, band students at Saint Mary’s are able to partake in the nightly tradition of eating dinner as a section, and by making co-exes more inaccessible with an extra cost, this tradition would be something that we wouldn’t be able to have,” O’Mearns said in an email. “By making us pay an extra $800 dollars per year, Saint Mary’s students would essentially be paying to be in the Notre Dame Band, a volunteer organization. I might be able to afford this, but the cost of co-exes could deter others from even auditioning for the band. It drives away those who would be unable to do something as simple as sharing a meal with their fellow band members.”

Johnson said she is working with the Notre Dame Marching Band to find a solution that will provide meals for those who choose not to participate in the Co-Ex Buy-Up Program.

I have somebody talking to the band director to find out what time that he thinks band practice will be done in the evenings, and we’re hoping that we can work out something so that people can get back here to eat before 9 o’clock,” Johnson said. “If it looks like we need to be open until 9:30 [p.m.] or something, we will work with Sodexo to make that happen. We aren’t going to let anybody starve.”

O’Mearns believes that enabling students to eat at Saint Mary’s later at night does not help with the problem, as it still prevents them from participating in a treasured post-rehearsal activity.

“I think the proposed solution of keeping the dining hall open later completely misses the point of why band students are upset. We don’t want to have to come back to Saint Mary’s for dinner — we just want to keep being able to eat with our sections and not be further alienated,” O’Mearns said. “Not only this, but it’s ridiculous that we pay so much for a meal plan when we are unable to even use half of the meals because of band. On top of this, we must now pay even more for meals that are meant to be exchanged for meals at Saint Mary’s, not bought in addition.”

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About Jordan Cockrum

Jordan Cockrum is a senior at Saint Mary's studying Communications and Humanistic Studies. She currently serves as Saint Mary's Editor.

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