Bucknell University students organized a bread line outside the president’s office Tuesday in protest of meal plan changes they say threaten student health.
Canned soups, fresh bread, packaged snacks and fresh fruit sat spread across two tables near Marts Hall. Student volunteers including those with Green New Deal Lewisburg encouraged passersby to take what they needed. The volunteers held signs with pointed slogans like “Food is a Basic Human Right” and “Bucknell Feed Your Students.” One played on the school’s Bison nickname: “The Herd is Starvin.”
A faction of students campaigned against meal plan changes since they were announced after the deadline to commit to attending class this semester. The lowest-priced option at the university costs $1,400 and provides seven meals a week and $200 in on-campus-only Dining Dollars spending for the semester. Last spring, the cheapest option was $700 in Dining Dollars.
Students on the cheapest plan say one meal a day isn’t nutritious and isn’t safe. They supplement with grocery store snacks bought out of pocket as well as items from campus food pantries. The issue has been exacerbated by the pandemic, limiting dining hall access and options from past years.
“I’m struggling. I don’t think I’ve met a person so far who isn’t. Also, I’m vegan so my diet is pretty limited,” said Eleanor King, a member of Green New Deal Lewisburg and university junior majoring in environmental studies. “The administration has failed.”
Mary Collier, a Green New Deal Lewisburg member and university senior majoring in managing for sustainability, said food insecurity has been growing on campus for years. She called on Bucknell administration to act quickly to provide three meals daily on the lowest plan, give students the option to opt-out or lower the price.
“We hope the administration feels a sense of urgency,” Collier said.
President John Bravman early Tuesday morning emailed students to announce the appointments of 13 faculty, students and staff to a Food & Nutrition Task Force. Members are tasked to make recommendations by the end of February 2021.
The university altered how and when meals are served as a measure intended to reduce touchpoints and crowding, according to university communications. It instituted single-line service and introduced a single menu across all venues, eliminating made-to-order options.
Bucknell requires all students living on-campus, which is the majority of the student population, to purchase a meal plan. First-year students are mandated to purchase the highest-priced option of 19 meals weekly at $2,750 to aid in life adjustments for its newest students. The middle option of 12 meals a week costs $1,950. All plans include $200 in Dining Dollars.
According to the university, the average price of a meal — breakfast, lunch and dinner — is 51 cents cheaper than last school year.
The total cost to attend Bucknell in 2020-21 including tuition, housing and meals is $72,648, according to the school’s website.
Sue Ellen Henry, a faculty member in the education department, helped organize Operation Hunger with other staff members, students and alumni. Donors contributed $7,700 as of Tuesday to purchase grocery store gift cards. The cards will be distributed to students who apply for aid through the volunteer program. The campaign can be found at https://gf.me/u/yzbndc.
“Right now, the most common ask is for $50 a week,” Henry said.
Dominic Lyles, a junior majoring in international relations with a minor in legal studies, said he has a full athletic scholarship and doesn’t have to worry about food insecurity. Many of his friends do, he said.
“You don’t wake up the same anymore. You’re going to sleep hungry. You’re waking up hungry,” Lyles said. “I see a lot of people who aren’t really focused anymore. It’s more like they’re passing by, just trying to get through the day.”