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Graduate students discuss frustration with new dining plan

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Francesca Nemati / Thresher Students line up in West Servery during lunch hours.

By Keegan Leibrock     9/5/23 11:20pm

Housing and Dining launched new dining plan options for graduate students this year, accommodating 300 graduate students during the 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 pm lunch period and 600 graduate students during the 2 pm to 4 p.m. “munch” period.

This new dining plan restricts the use of college commons to undergraduate students only. Graduate students are only allowed to take meals to-go.

“H&D has created an exclusive graduate student space near South Servery [called] the ‘Grad Bubble’ that was formally known as PCF 1,” reads the meal plan released by H&D. “All Graduate students will have access [to] the space.”



Graduate Student Association President Dhiraj Jain said that the new meal plan was created to help alleviate on-campus food insecurity for graduate students.

“As the GSA president, we have worked very hard to negotiate with undergraduate deans and H&D to have more on-campus meal options for graduate students,” Jain said. “There is a big food accessibility issue on campus for graduate students ... Housing and Dining is working to provide more options, but we are hoping to expand this.”

Graduate Student Association Vice President of Student Advocacy Xin Tan wrote in an email obtained by the Thresher that the meal plan’s restriction of available eating spaces has created frustration among graduate students.

“The email yesterday [from H&D] has created disruption and confusion for many graduate students, especially the incoming ones,” Tan wrote to members of administration. “As a result, many of them think very negatively of our school due to this, what they call, discriminatory policy.”

Tan declined a request for an interview. Housing and Dining also declined to be interviewed and did not answer specific follow-up questions.

Jain said that although he understands the need for preserving undergraduate common spaces, he feels there should be a solution more accommodating of graduate students.

“Undergraduate commons are for undergraduate students, so I completely understand why there would be a focus on having those spaces,” Jain said. “That being said, Rice is both an undergraduate and graduate institution, so there should be solutions worked out so that graduate students don’t have to walk halfway across the campus to sit and eat.”

Tan said that graduate students should be allowed to eat in college commons as long as they respect the space and avoid it when the college is hosting events.

“So far, the graduate students are very [respectful] of the undergraduate commons. Even if there are a few individual unhappy cases, graduate students shouldn’t bear the cost as a whole,” Tan wrote. “We are fine with keeping the lunch plan quantity to 300 due to the space limit. Forcing us all to take lunch to-go is really unreasonable.”

Besides his concerns with access to commons seating, Tan wrote that the servery limitations in the new meal plan exacerbate crowding.

“The 300 slots [for lunch graduate student dining] were once distributed fairly across four serveries according to their capacity. Now, the new agreement restricts us to West [Servery] and South (a very small servery), manually creating rush-hour congestion,” Tan wrote. “Overall, this new agreement severely reduced our accessibility to affordable dining options.”

Simon Kiang, a third-year graduate student, said that the Grad Bubble is an inconvenient and unappealing alternative to eating within residential college commons.

“If you’re walking from North Servery, it could be around a 15-minute walk, which makes it a pretty unreasonable ask for graduate students with that plan,” Kiang said. “Walking to the Bubble [from South], I need to balance all the stuff I’m carrying, and at the Bubble it’s really just a tent … There’s no water, no restrooms, just a trash bin. It really just feels like a classroom they put tables in.”

Jain said that though the new plan is a step in the right direction, he is continuing to work with campus administrators to expand on-campus food options for graduate students.

“The GSA, the Dean of Undergraduates and Housing and Dining are working on what can be done to mitigate this situation,” Jain said. “At least one thing that we can do is allow graduate students to eat in the college commons during the less utilized 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. [munch] period. That would be one small step to allow graduate students to sit and eat without having to walk across campus.”

Kiang said that he hopes eating servery food becomes more accessible for graduate students because of its extensive dietary and health options relative to other on-campus food.

“I really like the food in Rice serveries. The food is really good with lots of options, and the servery staff is so nice,” Kiang said. “Other options on campus are roughly the same in price but not as healthy and definitely more limited in options, especially if you have dietary restrictions.”

Student Association President Solomon Ni said that he hopes the SA and GSA continue to work with administration to expand on-campus food options for graduate students.

“I want to continue to work with the GSA in figuring out what is best for them in terms of more graduate dining options, including options on where to dine, sit down and eat,” Ni, a Jones College junior, said. “I hope to think more about what open spaces for undergraduates and graduates to eat could look like, especially in a new student center.”



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