The UC Santa Barbara chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America petitioned for campus dining halls to implement meal swipe rollovers, garnering over 2,000 signatories — 8% of the student population — as of Feb. 5.
The petition calls for unused weekly meal swipes to “roll over” for the entire academic quarter. Currently, any meal swipes not used within a weekly period cannot be used again for the rest of the meal plan period.
The campaign — which started last quarter — has been endorsed by eight other campus organizations including Campus Democrats and the Associated Students (A.S.) Basic Needs Committee, among others.
“I think this is a common-sense reform. That should have been done the first time somebody asked for it,” third-year political science major and Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) co-chair Isabella Ferraro said.
UCSB is one of only two UC campuses, alongside UC Berkeley, that does not offer any method of meal swipe rollovers. The university also doesn’t allow students to share meal swipes, the only other campus to do so besides UC San Diego.
According to YDSA’s gathered survey data and anecdotes, the lack of rollovers has caused food insecurity, incentivized food rationing and heightened disordered eating behaviors, among other issues. Which especially impacts students who are disabled, low-income and undocumented, according to Ferraro.
“People are doing this crazy gymnastics to be able to just eat dinner, and they still are students, and maybe they’re working students as well,” Ferraro said. “A lot of people were saying that they genuinely feel stressed every single day about how they’re going to eat.”
According to survey data from 160 students, over a third have gone without eating due to a lack of meal swipes, and 64% have had to ration their meal swipes. Almost 100% of the surveyed students agreed they would benefit from meal swipe rollovers.
This campaign is the third documented effort by students to get the university to implement meal swipe rollovers. In 2020, the A.S. Senate passed a 6-0 resolution in favor of rollovers, but the final decision was left to the university administration.
In 2006, A.S. representative Nathaniel Wood-Wilde advocated for rollovers in collaboration with the Residence Housing Association and UCSB Dining Services, but the efforts didn’t convince the university due to how meal plan pricing is calculated. Rates are based on a “ratio of how many meals students use as well as miss” and allowing rollovers might “increase the meal plans cost,” then Dining Services director Judy Edner said.
“I do think we’re capable of handling that,” Ferraro said. “Especially because the other UCs are capable of handling this. I think they can do some inner UC communication and figure out how the other people make it work because we’re supposed to be a top public university.”
Ferraro believes the most recent A.S. resolution didn’t carry weight because nothing was “leveraged” to incentivize the university to action. So this time, YDSA is aiming to build a “broad student base of support” as past efforts fizzled out as students graduated.
“A.S. might not be the most effective conduit for change on campus, and a lot of times I think it will come from students because they’re willing to do a little more,” Ferraro said.
YDSA is also calling for the reinstatement of an old meal swipe donation program, sponsored by the A.S. Food Bank. Before the pandemic, students could donate up to three meal swipes each week for “students in need,” according to A.S. Food Bank Administrative Coordinator Crystal Bach. The program has since been removed due to budget cuts, according to the A.S. Food Bank.
Bach said the bank plans to meet with the Basic Needs chair this month to discuss reinstating meal swipe donations.
Other basic needs services on campus include CalFresh, community gardens, a halal and kosher grocery bag program and several kinds of food pantries. Outside campus, Isla Vista and Santa Barbara also have respective community pantries.
“I think a lot of them are either very temporary fixes or aren’t full and complete fixes,” Ferraro said. “I’ve been to the A.S. Food Bank, and a lot of times, you can’t really make a full meal out of the stuff that’s there, or at least not one that most people would like to eat. And you can only go at very specific times.”
Third-year environmental studies and sociology double major and fellow YDSA co-chair Caela Erickson Imbrogno felt the way meal plans are set up didn’t align with their life and schedule when they had one for a year after transferring from Valencia College.
“I very rarely felt like I had time to actually use my meals during the meal periods,” Imbrogno said. “I would get to the end of the week, and I’d have maybe five meals left. And then those are just gone. Right? 15 bucks for each one.”
“It feels very exploitative. You have to give the school all of this money for a meal plan. And then they put all of these barriers to make it difficult to actually use these swipes that you paid for,” she continued.
Once they reach 2,500 signatories, which would be 10% of the student population, YDSA is aiming to present their petition to Executive Director of Campus Dining Services Jill Horst.
“I think something like this would show a little bit of humanity, which would be really nice — to know that the school you go to at least wants you to eat dinner,” Ferraro said.
The university did not respond to requests for comment.
A version of this article appeared on p. 5 of the Feb. 8, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.