Despite the ongoing global pandemic, Gonzaga’s meal plan solutions refuses to reevaluate the qualifying criteria for a meal plan modification or exemption request. 

Even though the university has taken preventative measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, the COG remains an unsafe space for those who are immunocompromised. With the number of positive cases on campus on the rise, occupancy at the dining hall will continue to decline as more students with access to kitchen appliances choose to eat at home. 

Knowing this, it is ridiculous the university has not taken action in reducing meal plan costs or relaxing its exemption criteria. 

The least expensive meal plan GU offers costs $6,080 for the whole year, a hefty price to pay for students who are not using it due to COVID-19. This decision by the university to require those living on campus to purchase a meal plan is putting a strain on many students, including sophomore Avalyn Renee, who is struggling to balance school, internships and extracurriculars while working 30 hours a week to make payments. 

“Instead of paying $250 a month for school, I now have to pay $1000 a month because I wasn’t able to get out of my meal plan even though it is something I am not able to access because my roommate is high risk,” Renee said.

Renee’s tireless efforts to get through to the university about her meal plan concerns have traveled from Suzie Mize, GU’s finance & business Assistant director of auxiliary enterprises, to the head of meal plans solutions, to President Thayne McCulloh, and was eventually met with an unwavering no. 

It is understandable why the university has a meal plan requirement for first-year students, but for second-year students like Renee who have full access to kitchen facilities living in on-campus apartments, the meal plan should not be required.  

Even without COVID-19, it is incredibly difficult to receive meal plan exemptions. 

The process is flawed and has been this way since before the pandemic. Last year sophomore Haley Mayer went through months of tug-of-war with the Office of Disability Access in order to get out of her meal plan for medical reasons.

“I had to provide years worth of hospital records and go through an insane amount of meetings to even get considered for a meal plan exemption this year,” Mayer said.  

GU is made up of and loved by its student body, so it is disappointing to see how fast the university will drop its promise to prioritize the student experience for profit. While students are taking calculated risks to return to campus during a pandemic, the university is firm in its stance against comprise. 

Meal plan exemption requests must fall into one of three categories to be considered: financial hardship as determined by FAFSA, a disability as determined by the Office of Disability Access or residing off-campus. Given the effects of COVID-19, it is vital the university revise its criteria. 

Not only does the Office of Disability need to make the immunocompromised a priority when evaluating meal plan exemptions, but it also needs to redefine what the scope of what “financial hardships entail” in light of the pandemic. 

The student FAFSA uses tax records from 2018-2019, which does not clearly reflect the financial stress this year’s pandemic put on individuals and families. COVID-19 had a crippling economic effect on communities across the nation, leaving many jobless or struggling to keep business afloat. GU knows this and yet has turned a blind eye to it. 

Additionally, because the pandemic caught the whole world by surprise as everything abruptly shut down, it was unrealistic for the university to expect students to have the ability to find off-campus housing before the 2020 academic year. 

On top of everything, not only is GU adamant in not budging with meal plan regulations, but it also raised the tuition for this academic year. This is a shocking move considering more than half of the classes at the university are operating remotely. 

 “It is really disappointing that Gonzaga is putting money above students’ wellbeing,” said Renee. 

Many schools across the nation have decided to make housing and residence accommodations, and GU needs to follow suit in order to regain student confidence in the university’s response to the largest pandemic it has seen in decades.

Kellie Tran is a staff writer.

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