Gates: Equivalency meal policies detrimental to students


Matt Gates, Columnist

Late last Saturday afternoon, I realized that I had forgotten to complete a weekly ritual. Joining a small army of Northwestern students, I rushed to a C-store in order to use my equivalency meals before they expired. As I entered the store, I noticed that the line was even longer than it usually is during the Saturday night equivalency meal rush.

After spending a few moments in the store, I realized the length of the line was caused by the delay as startled customers learned of the policy that equivalency meals can only be used to buy food items.

Customers held up the line as they put back hygienic items like soap and exchanged them for unhealthy snack items like Cheetos. But this rule has created more problems than just holding up my Saturday evening C-store run; it is also potentially detrimental to the financial well-being and general health of NU students.

Despite seeming to provide students with a basic human need, equivalency meals offer students unnecessary items while depriving them of easier access to basic necessities. Many of the non-food items found in the C-store are more essential to NU students than the food items provided. Laundry detergent, deodorant and dental supplies are far more essential to the average NU student than energy drinks, chocolate and candy. A large portion of the C-store food items, including cookies, ice-cream and chips, are neither substantial nor healthy, but tissues, soap and yes, condoms, are health necessities. Although equivalency meals can be put towards substantial food in places like Frontera, the hours of these establishments may not align with the schedules of NU’s busy student body. NU’s policy fails to promote healthy habits among its students.

Certain non-food items are also necessary for students to eat the food items purchased in the C-store or elsewhere. Students are allowed to buy food items but not the disposable utensils, plates, bowls, cups and paper towels with which to prepare and consume a meal. These items would be accessible in the dining halls where a student would eat a board meal, and therefore these essentials should be considered part of an “equivalency meal.”

For some it is merely aggravating to make a trip to CVS to purchase basic goods. But for others, the policy of not allowing students to use their equivalency meals on non-food items at the C-store poses a legitimate financial burden. For students paying NU tuition and living expenses with likely a part-time income at best, small amounts of money spent on basic necessities can add up. NU owes it to its students not to create policies that impose unnecessary financial burdens on them.

Last year, I was able to use my equivalency meals on cups, paper towels and dental supplies on several occasions. Inconsistent enforcement of rules is never ideal, but the NU student body would be better off if this rule was entirely revoked.

There does not seem to be any reason why NU cannot allow students to use equivalency meals on non-food items. After all, I think we can agree that the NU student body would benefit from being able to buy some tissues right about now.

Matt Gates is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].