Op-ed: Swipe2Care must be revisited during the pandemic

Students+eat+in+one+of+Northeastern%27s+dining+halls.

Elisa Figueras

Students eat in one of Northeastern’s dining halls.

Mia Merchant, contributor

We’re all slaves to the private education system, whether we acknowledge it or not. We all know colleges in America are set up to make profits. But what excuse could they make for not feeding their students?

As a first-year, I didn’t realize the Swipe2Care system at Northeastern is not new. I thought it was something developed during quarantine to help students who are less able to afford food. But it’s not new: the system was developed two years ago through the Student Government Association, or SGA, in response to the high prices of Northeastern’s meal plans, where students can donate extra meals on a voluntary basis.

I commend the SGA for trying to help their fellow students, given that they have no control over Northeastern’s prices, but it should not be left up to other students to ensure their peers are fed. 

It’s true that some of us have more meal swipes than we’re ever going to use, and instead of watching our money go to waste, we can give it to someone else who needs it. It sounds like a system designed to make you feel good about helping other students in need. It’s perfectly well-intentioned, similar to charities that donate food and clothes to homeless shelters and lower-income families. However, charities don’t have the discretion to change the system itself, so they provide whatever immediate relief they can. 

Unfortunately, Northeastern seems to treat Swipe2Care as an actual solution when it’s more like putting a Band-Aid over a bullet wound — it’s hardly a solution to the real problem. If Northeastern students can’t afford to eat, why isn’t Northeastern taking responsibility for that instead of placing the burden on other students?

Here’s a thought: lower meal plan prices, preferably without building those costs in somewhere else. Here’s another thought: guarantee three meals a day for everyone and provide full scholarships to everyone who can’t afford meals for whatever reason. 

Now, I know that sounds like a lot to ask. But if Northeastern has room for plenty of remodeling projects every year (that aren’t necessary for COVID-19), they should be allocating money to cover basic necessities such as food. They must also have leftover money from student activity fees and N.U.in excursions that aren’t being used, which could go towards helping students most impacted by the pandemic.  

It reminds me of the way that some companies such as Coca-Cola actively tell consumers to recycle more when they are fighting against regulations on plastics. Coca-Cola also happens to be one of the biggest plastic polluters and wasters in the world — hypocritical much? 

This is just one example of dozens of corporations that claim to want to reduce waste and be more environmentally sustainable when their practices don’t actually reflect that. I’m not saying Northeastern actively tries to prevent students from getting meals, but they definitely do their fair share of deflecting the problem onto students rather than solving the root issues. 

I imagine there are a variety of situations that would cause a Northeastern student to request an extra meal. Maybe you used up too many meal swipes at the beginning of the week and need some extras at the end. Maybe you ran out of swipes and can’t afford food off campus. Maybe you can only afford the seven swipe per week plan and rely on free food for the rest of your meals. Whatever the reason, there are students who can’t pay for food, and Northeastern is not directly helping them.

Northeastern should be guaranteeing meals for everyone without relying on other students. The system itself requires you to request a meal swipe, and you can be denied. I don’t think anyone should be determining if students get free meals, whether their reasons be because they don’t have enough swipes to give away, or because they deem some students to be more eligible than others.  It can also take days to process, making it difficult for students to get meals as soon as possible. 

If Northeastern has the resources to make large-scale structural changes, as evident by their elaborate response to the pandemic, they have the resources to help its students face food insecurity.

Swipe2Care won’t fix any real problems. If Northeastern students are hungry, then it’s Northeastern’s obligation to feed them, not other students. If we can view Northeastern like a business, then it needs to take corporate responsibility into account and work to fix its systemic issues rather than deflecting them onto students. 

This system needs to be revisited, especially considering we’re in the midst of a pandemic. Almost everyone is under additional financial stress, and having only students — some who might need more aid than before the pandemic — feed other students is highly unsustainable. Now more than ever, students are relying on the university to provide essential services. Northeastern should step forward to fulfill that responsibility.

Mia Merchant is a first-year in the Explore Program. She can be reached at [email protected].