SmartChoice: A Freshman’s Perspective

By James M. Keating and Nicholas P. Desatnick

It’s 11:45 on Saturday morning. You roll out of bed and are still “tired” from the night before. After grabbing a bottle of water, you meet up with your floor-mates and decide to get some breakfast. At 12:02, you swipe into Foco and fashion a bowl of Frosted Flakes, only to ruin it with a blast of skim-milk from the one nozzle that is still stocked. You wolf down your light breakfast and return to your dorm. Determined to make a dent in your Gov homework, you lie down on your bed and start reading, but wake up two hours later with the packet stuck to your forehead. You roll out of bed and feel a pang of hunger, so you and your roommate decide to grab a burger and Coke from the Hop. After trekking across the Green and waiting in a not-so-long line for the grill, you and your buddy make your way to the register with your fare. One after the other, you are both told that because you had eaten your breakfast during the lunch period, you are ineligible for a meal swipe and must use your DBA instead. You protest this effrontery vociferously, but find that your overtures of reason fall on deaf ears. With a sigh, you pay for your lunch with your DBA and watch one of your 20-weekly meal swipes go to waste. Welcome to life with SmartChoice.

The new meal program, first announced in March of 2011 to “provide the widest range of options” for on-campus dining, has proven to do everything but. Ever since its inception, student complaints have been widespread and manifold, particularly amongst members of the Class of 2015. Under a rule instated by the College, all freshmen are required to purchase the 20-meal-a-week dining option, a stipulation that many find as unsavory as the food at Foco’s vegetarian station.

“How can I eat 20 meals a week?” asks Edwin Felix ‘15 with incredulity. “Most days, I can only eat two and because my third swipe doesn’t roll over, I’m just giving away money to the College.” Indeed, many freshmen have voiced similar concerns, citing their compulsion to “get their money’s worth” in the new system as a primary frustration. According to Dartmouth Dining Service’s webpage, the SmartChoice20 plan costs $1,658 per term and buys each student 20-weekly swipes in addition to $75 in Flex DBA. These terms make for a per-swipe cost of approximately $7.92. The proposition of losing nearly eight dollars for a missed meal incites many and has quickly led to widespread disdain for the new system.

“Last week, because I went to a number of club meetings where food was served, I didn’t use several meal swipes for dinner,” Meghan Hassett ’15 lamented. “Because those swipes don’t roll over, I left a lot of money on the table.” Ms. Hassett is not alone in her vexation, as many have echoed her grievance. “Why can’t our meal swipes just roll over? We’re all adults and we all paid for 20-meals a week. We should be able to chose when and how we use our swipes,” added a freshman who wishes to remain anonymous.

It is here that the greatest irony of the new system emerges. Though promoted as a model of flexibility and affordability, SmartChoice has come under fire for perpetuating the exact opposite situation. Under the restraints imposed by the 20-meal plan, freshmen hemorrhage money when they find that their dining schedules don’t match those imposed by DDS. Conflicts with activities and individual eating preferences frequently mean that students cannot claim all three meals in one day. Is it really fair for the College to penalize them by seizing the eight dollars they have invested in each swipe? The student body has answered with a resounding “no.”

The implementation of such a flawed system has also resulted in a number of secondary problems. Chief among them is overeating. “As an athlete, I find it annoying that I have to eat on the College’s meal schedule,” Colin Heffernan ’15 commented. “I would prefer to eat before and after morning lifts, but the swipe system doesn’t let me do that. Instead, I have to eat more than I otherwise would because I can’t eat when I’m hungry without spending all of my DBA on over-priced food at the Hop and Collis.” Others have voiced a similar concern. Vikram Narayan ‘15 added, “Every time I eat at Foco, I wonder if what I’m eating justifies what my parents are paying. I eat more than I should to get my money’s worth.”

And so under the guise of adopting a versatile and fiscally-friendly system, the College has imposed an intransigent, expensive, and unhealthy plan upon all freshmen. With such a clear verdict on SmartChoice20, only one question remains: how many students need to adopt SmartChoice5 come winter term for there to be a change?