The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College since 1873

Author: Madeline Polkinghorn (Page 2 of 2)

Student Government Pushes for Free Meals in Commons

Bates has long provided its students with a tremendously unique dining program; the single dining hall setup allows students to connect in a centralized location, while unlimited swipes encourages students to enter and leave Commons as frequently as they desire with no financial recourse. Now, Student Government is making moves for an even more comprehensive meal plan – one that would allow students free meals over scheduled school breaks.

Currently, all meals are included under the universal meal plan during the regularly scheduled school year, as well as fall recess (October 18-22). During all other breaks, students have to pay for individual meals at a reduced rate, in cash or simply charge it to their account.

I spoke with Student Government President, Walter Washington ’19, who is determined to reform this current policy. “As the school increases its endowment and does a better job of recruiting people from different socioeconomic backgrounds and international students,” starts Washington, “that’s going to result in us having more students who can’t go home either because of cost or distance.” Because of this increasing shift in demographic, Washington and his fellow members of Student Government find it imperative that the Bates administration make a concerted effort to increase dining accessibility for students who may have food security issues during the holidays. Washington has encountered some pushback from the administration, who cited concerns with general costs.

Walter, though, is optimistic about the prospects of making meals free. “[The administration] is realizing more and more that Student Government is different, and we’re not just taking ‘no’ as much as we used to,” says Washington. “If you’re going to say no, we want to know why and where that money is going, and for you to be transparent. At the end of the day, the administration is responsible for giving us the best possible product they can. And if this is something that works toward the betterment of that product, I think we should receive it as students.”

Student Government’s next plan of action will be to conduct conversations with the school’s treasurer, Geoffrey Swift, as well as Christine Schwartz and Cheryl Lacey, who serve respectively as Assistant Vice President of Dining and Director of Dining.

I talked to Schwartz and Lacey as well, who wanted to emphasize the liberal nature of Bates’ existing universal meal plan, as well as cost-free options that Commons already provides, including the six free guest passes entitled to all students and the Mug Club. The “Mug Club” encourages students to scan their Bates mugs 40 times to get a free meal, making it so that each student could get a total of 15 free meals. Still, there are 101 possible meals over breaks that Commons could cover – 69 for which Commons is actually open, and only nine of which are covered under the board plan.

Schwartz has not yet met with Washington in person, and while she hopes to meet the needs of food insecure students as well, she expresses some reservations about the feasibility of entirely free meals during breaks. “I can tell you from our perspective,” she remarks, “it would be hard for us to absorb any additional costs, unless we’re talking about changing services [such as the current unlimited meal plan].” Nevertheless, Lacey and Schwartz “look forward to future talks with Walter to see what is his vision is and how we can support it.” The three of them will have their first formal, in-person meeting this week. New developments on Student Government’s efforts will be covered as they progress.

Ultimately, the student body’s opinion is the most important in this conversation. I connected with Tony Zhong ’21 of Beijing, China, who had a measured outlook on the debate. Zhong, who will be staying on campus during Thanksgiving, remarked that it makes sense “to charge for meals when most of the students won’t be here. Still, it would be nice if meals were free!” Zhong also appreciated the current meal system. “If I had to choose, I would rather have the unlimited meal plan and pay for meals over Thanksgiving.”

Report Shows Disappointing Voter Turnout Statistics for Bates

From its very founding by abolitionists to its history as one of the first coeducational undergraduate institutions in the nation, Bates has prided itself on its reputation as a college brimming with active political awareness. However, according to a study conducted at Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University, only 43.5% of eligible Bates students voted in the 2016 election. While this number increased by 1.9% from 2012, Bates fell below the national voting average of 50.4% for all institutions. Interestingly, Bates boasted a high registration rate of 71% – but those numbers weren’t reflected in the polls. The data also elucidated that 41.9% of eligible female students at Bates voted as opposed to 38.7% eligible male students. Field of study was also a significant variable in the report as well – the majors that attracted the most voters were History and Biological and Biomedical studies, and the majors that attracted the least were Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Visual and Performing Arts.

Among those disappointed by this report were the staff at the Harward Center for Community Partnerships. I spoke to Peggy Rotundo, the director of Strategic and Policy Initiatives, and Brenna Callahan, a recent Bates graduate and a Civic Leadership Fellow for the Center. The Center was tremendously disappointed by the statistic, especially given the impressive registration rate Bates was able to achieve this past year. In fact, the college won the 2016 “Voter Reg Rumble” – a statewide contest where institutions at different levels compete to get the most students registered to vote – hosted by Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. “But then we got these numbers,” remarks Callahan, “and saw that only 43% of our students voted. So it was interesting to see such energy around registration – but then only about 60% of those [students who were already registered] actually voted.” Still, they refuse to relinquish their efforts to increase political engagement and numbers at Bates – in fact, the Center is galvanized. “We’ve always worked hard to do nonpartisan voter registration,” says Rotundo, “and the fact that we had such a low percentage of our student body voting in the 2016 election made us even more motivated to get students registered to vote.” Along with direct voter registration, the Center is working on long range efforts to improve political literacy around the school, such as on-campus policy debates and initiatives to educate the student body on ballot questions and local candidates. For National Voter Registration Day this September 26, the center will be teaming up with student groups all week to register students. Students will be able to come to Commons starting Monday, September 25 all the way through Friday, September 29 and will be provided with instructions on how to fill out the short voter registration card. Students may register to vote in Maine or in their home states, and must provide the last four digits of their Social Security number if they do not have a Maine driver’s license or state I.D. The process generally takes a few minutes.

The Bates College Democrats are a group similarly distressed by the numbers articulated in the study. While the club itself has a partisan lean, the club’s president, Megan Currie, stressed that party alliance was immaterial in the context of maximizing voter turnout. “Obviously, I’m the president of the Democrats, so I tend to vote a certain way,” started Currie, “but I don’t care which party [students] register with when they vote. I just want them to vote, and to show up on election day.” The group is particularly energized to improve student voter turnout for the November 7 municipal election, where Lewiston residents will have the chance to vote for a new mayor. Max Gardner, a member of the Bates Democrats’ board, noted that “as citizens, voting is our most effective tool to express our feelings towards government and elected officials.” Gardner expressed hope that Bates students would channel frustrations over the incumbent mayor’s administration into action, stating that “it seems like there is discontent among many Bates students with some of the policies of our current mayor, Robert MacDonald, so I hope that these students take advantage of this incredibly consequential tool and vote this year.”

As national voter registration and a crucial local election looms in the very near future, Bates students have only one basic responsibility: to show up.

 

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