We, the undersigned, are writing to express a strong condemnation of the recent measures taken by University Housing and Dining imposing a mandatory $1,400 minimum fee for Wiscard accounts to be spent exclusively within University Dining facilities. This policy must be revoked immediately.
This action has direct and immediate harms for low-income students. Despite a recent release citing “installments” of $350 per quarter, this requirement is one more financial burden upon many that students will struggle to pay. Because the $1,400 minimum requirement was calculated based on the average of all student dining hall spending, it is clear that over 50% of students will be required to pay more (if not significantly more) than they already do for dining. For many students, this extra spending will be beyond their means. This discriminatory measure demonstrates a total disregard for all low-income students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Due to prohibitive pricing, few low-income students are able to frequent the dining halls. This measure takes money out of the pockets of students who must already budget to spend their money otherwise. According to the 2016 Campus Climate Survey, food-insecure and low-income students rely on resources like food pantries and the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to make ends meet due to inadequate financial aid packages. University Housing has not specified what is meant when they purport that the $1,400 minimum fee may be “covered by financial aid.”
This ambiguity leaves students who rely on financial aid to wonder whether University Housing will be seizing their grant funding or pushing them further into student debt through loans. University Housing has indicated that funds not utilized at the conclusion of the semester will be forfeited as money lost to the student. This money will not be repurposed for a program to fight campus hunger. This paternalistic measure eliminates autonomy and freedom of choice for low-income students. It treats their livelihoods and agency as an afterthought in the pursuit of bigger profits. This is discrimination on the basis of socioeconomic status.
In addition to financial inaccessibility, dining hall offerings are inaccessible due to dietary restrictions. Dining facilities are daunting to navigate for students who need kosher or halal foods, have diabetes, food allergies, are gluten-free, vegan, and more. This policy is discriminatory on the basis of medical disability, religion, and cultural observance. Furthermore, by forfeiting a student’s dining funds, it weakens student bargaining power to change food offerings within the dining halls in the future and disincentivizes innovation by University Housing. It is clear that the aforementioned measure is not concerned with financial planning or food access despite recent progressive initiatives.
This policy has arrived after many first-year students have already accepted contracts in housing for next year. Incoming first-year students were not able to make informed housing decisions. No exemption process to leave their contracts on the basis of socioeconomic circumstance, diverse ability, religion or cultural observance has been specified. In effect, University Housing has trapped all incoming first-year students with more debt, fewer options, and less student bargaining power. The cost of attendance on campus has risen exponentially in the last decade alone and this measure will impose a steep increase in the total cost of attendance for new students and has dodged the shared governance process. This policy and the actions by University Housing stand in stark conflict with the intention to keep college affordable and may adversely impact rates of enrollment, retention, and graduation. To move All Ways Forward, we must move All Ways Forward Together.
This policy harms students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in manners financial, cultural, religious, medical, and dietary. In favor of the well-being of all UW-Madison students and affiliates—past, present, and future—this discriminatory policy must be revoked immediately. All future decisions must be made in accordance with the institutional statements on diversity and nondiscrimination, student shared governance, and a commitment to college access and affordability.
Co-Authors Rena Newman ‘20 and Brooke Evans ‘17
(To view the text with periodically updated signatures, follow this link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1HD1_4oUZmV9IOcao-Bkdv16-taxQHqnHo-hzWvLoIBE/edit?usp=sharing)