Illustration by: Maddie Bataille | Photo Editor
This week from the Senate floor: an open discussion with Director of Dining Services Pierre St-Germain and Vice President of Student Affairs Ellen Reynolds.
To begin the Senate’s proceedings, Reynolds reminded everyone that this time of year can be incredibly stressful and difficult for many, and that students should check in on one another. Later on, the Senate was reminded that the University’s mental health services and resources are available on the Student Senate website.
Following this, St-Germain and Reynolds requested everyone to complete a survey about Dining Services, which had been sent to all student emails earlier this month. According to St-Germain, approximately 60% of the student body opened the email, with only about 250 students actually filling it out. St-Germain said the feedback from the survey is taken into consideration, and it helps inform Dining Services of changes that are needed. As well, St-Germain commented that Butterfield’s dining hall was receiving positive feedback, while Mainfare was receiving more negative feedback, which is opposite of normal.
St-Germain confirmed that Dining Services had been given permission to increase the costs of meal plans in next year’s budget, alongside increasing housing rates. However, he assured that this would be offset by a decrease in Health Services fees and decreased funding going towards the Memorial Union, in an attempt to keep student costs as minimal as possible.
Following these initial comments, Reynolds and St-Germain received questions, comments and suggestions for over an hour, beginning with feedback from Campus Affairs Committee Chair Cameron Chadronet. According to Chadronet, some students miss the pre-Dining Dollars system, where more meal plans included preloaded funds in their Ram Account upon purchase, rather than having to add their own funds, and most students are opposed to the current system. Others are annoyed because swipes were easier to keep track of, and made more sense to them. Staff at some facilities did not understand why the change occurred, too.
Chadronet also asked about the expansion of Dining Dollars to include more products. Dining Dollars are limited in their scope due to contracts organized by the school with the companies, where contracts with specific companies determine which products can be purchased with the currency. Chadronet believes that these restrictions are why more meal plans should have some of their fee spent towards Ram Accounts.
Senator Jose Montoya raised a concern about Dining Dollars not being transferred from one week to the next, which would become the topic of many questions throughout the night. The senators also addressed the “Thursday surge” at the corner store, where many people go to spend their remaining dining dollars. Each of these issues would be solved by allowing Dining Dollars to transfer to the following week, according to the senators.
St-Germain did not immediately dismiss the idea, acknowledging many of the benefits that would occur. However, he later claimed that funds not rolling over is not an issue, as all unlimited plans receive more value in Dining Dollars than they are spending on the plans, also commenting that other institutions have more restrictive dining plans than what URI has.
Upon being asked where unspent Dining Dollars go upon their weekly reset, St-Germain commented that these go into what he described as a “missed-meal factor” and the funds help to offset other dining costs.
He also added that of the weekly allotted swipes during the 2021 to 2022 academic year, 40% were being used, whereas 70% of allotted Dining Dollars are being used. He followed by mentioning that if every student with swipes used every swipe they were given, dining services would have gone bankrupt.
Senator Ava Piacentini raised a question about taking food out of the dining halls, and implementing a system for it. St-Germain responded that he has been attempting to figure out a way to make such a system work for years, and that many options students have suggested are not viable. Students using their own containers is a violation of Rhode Island health codes, while using disposable containers created large excesses of waste and implementing school-provided reusable containers is difficult.
Throughout the session, senators asked multiple times about increases in prices between equivalent meal plans. In previous years, for example, specialty pizzas cost two swipes, 10% of the twenty-swipe plan. Now, the same pizza costs up to $18, 20% of the equivalent, $90 plan.
As well, additions to food in the Ram’s Den now have additional costs, when they did not increase costs under swipe plans. According to St-Germain, many of these price increases are not for profit for the University, but are due to price hikes by their suppliers.
While more questions kept arising, the open floor was cut short due to time constraints, and the Senate moved on to regular procedures.
The External Affairs Committee announced that a judge officially voided Narragansett’s three-student ordinance, and any lease signed during this period will stand, even if the lease breaks the policy of any new ordinance. Narragansett also saw a week in which no new houses received party house stickers.
The Cultural Affairs Committee now has a time, date and location for their Narcan training sessions. They will be hosting a session on Nov. 28, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. in room 360 of the Memorial Union.
Two bills passed the floor unanimously this session. First, a bill introduced in their previous session which provides additional funding for repairs to the Northwoods Challenge Course. Second, the Senate recognized a new student organization, the Chinese Student Association, which is designed to provide a space for Chinese students and those interested in Chinese culture to explore it through events.
The Student Senate will not be meeting next week, due to the Thanksgiving break. They will next meet on Wednesday, Nov. 30.