Georgetown created its controversial mandatory meal plan policy, covered by The Hoya last year, to “support and promote a healthy living and learning community where all students thrive,” according to a June 2021 announcement from Provost Robert Groves. When it comes to students with severe food allergies, however, this meal plan requirement has presented a number of issues.
First-years and sophomores will find themselves on the All-Access-7 plan, and upperclassmen living on campus face a reduced — but still mandatory — plan. For students who cannot utilize regular meal services, the meal plan committee presents a cheery image of the available options: a carefully reviewed allergen station in Leo J. O’Donovan Dining Hall; reduced meal plan options; “special housing,” which includes “ability to use appliances in campus housing,” and “housing with a private kitchen.”
When it comes to the meal plan policy, students with food allergies like myself and Uma Savla (COL ’25) have been urged in meetings with the meal plan committee to remain on the meal plan, or to accept a partial reduction like the 14 Weekly plan, which offers a less than desirable price tag: about 50% of the meals for 84% of the All-Access-7 + 500 FLEX price, according to Hoya Eats. And it doesn’t end there.
The reality for students like me with life-threatening allergies is a far cry from what the university advertises. As for the Leo’s allergen station, it is difficult to imagine that trust in Leo’s is high among students following its run-ins with health inspectors last year, as well as the recent norovirus outbreak, which students speculated was tied to the dining hall. Georgetown says in its allergen disclaimer, “Please be advised that we prepare our foods in commercial kitchens where cross-contact with food allergens is possible.”
The medically accommodated housing, issued by the Academic Resource Center (ARC), is more expensive than other dorm options — a double in Kennedy, McCarthy, Reynolds, New South, Harbin, or Darnall costs $5,832 each semester, while for an apartment with a food preparation area in Alumni Square, the base price is $6,598, an upcharge of $766 — and, in my case, when Medical Housing couldn’t find a placement, they recommended just living off campus.
To add to this, the meal plan committee requires a meeting with exemption applicants. When I applied for an exemption, I found my committee meeting to be more of an interrogation about my health history than an as-advertised casual conversation. Savla said that the committee confirmed in a meeting that she qualified for a meal plan reduction for the 2022-23 academic year, yet she later received an email informing her that the committee was granting no exemption at all.
When it comes to other accommodations for its students, Georgetown offers extensive healthcare services like the Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service (GERMS) ambulance and the Student Health Center. It appears that the university has no problem providing services necessary for student health until it comes to one of the university’s money-makers like the meal plan — at which point Georgetown does not seem keen on letting students off the hook, and makes this very clear in its extensive exemption policy.
Georgetown’s disregard for student health goes so far as to put aside the advice of medical experts to keep students on the meal plan. In order to request an exemption, students must submit a request written by their doctor. Behind every incidence of a rejected exemption application is a doctor’s note, making students wonder if Georgetown places the opinion of its committee over that of a student’s doctor, whom it defines as having an “area of specialty that should coincide with the nature of the student’s medical request.” It would be irrational to assume that the committee, regardless of the medical credentials of its team, could know a student’s needs better than their personal physician.
It is unclear where protections lie for students with life-threatening allergic conditions, or what gives the meal plan committee the authority to decide that a student with an allergic condition will be fine at the allergen station. It is apparent that the university should reform the committee in order to allow leniency for students with food allergies to receive exemptions. A change to the function of the committee, focused on stopping the meal plan office from acting as a gatekeeper to an exemption, would reduce health hazards for Georgetown’s students.
Georgetown has, time and time again, put student health at risk by mandating a meal plan that presents barriers to access for students who cannot afford to put their lunch money into the hands of the university. Until Georgetown lays down a significant reform to its meal plan committee, it is doing a disservice to its medically disadvantaged student population.
Savannah Jones is a junior in the College. Health on the Hilltop appears in print and online every third Friday.