Dining hours for the summer semester are severely limited, harming students who stay on campus and bringing SIUE dangerously close to becoming a food desert.
According to the Food Empowerment Project, “Food deserts can be described as geographic areas where residents’ access to affordable, healthy food options (especially fresh fruits and vegetables) is restricted or nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores within convenient traveling distance.”
By this standard, SIUE is not quite a food desert, but frequently lacks support for students without cars; walking from residence areas to any grocery store is nearly impossible, and the MCT bus routes are limited.
But even if we make the definition more generous, removing the limit of healthy food options and just considering if meals are available to students, the students who live on campus during the summer semester are still left out. Outside of Union Station and Starbucks, every on-campus option during both summer terms closes by 2:30 p.m., some even earlier.
As the only place on campus to acquire food or ingredients that can be prepared at home, Union Station doesn’t close until 5:30 p.m. But the foods there, especially the limited grocery items, face markups harsher than actual grocery stores. Starbucks similarly stays open until 4:30 p.m., but provides little to no nutritional food options, and, more importantly, both close in the afternoon.
All of this combined limits on-campus students significantly, and those who can’t drive and don’t have options to easily leave campus barely have access to food at all. Students who live on campus during the summer semester are likely taking classes during that time, and considering the longer meeting times of summer classes, many students in synchronous courses may not be able to get food on campus, much less at an affordable price.
This problem is increased tenfold for students who work and live on campus during the summer. To work on campus during the summer, you must take at least one course, so the issues from the possibility of synchronous courses stack with employment. In this situation, students are faced with little to no options when it comes to grabbing food after work and hardly anything to keep at home from what they can buy on their days off. Dining Services workers are often students themselves, and though they’re usually able to grab some food from work, that only provides them a meal per shift at best. For students who work outside of Dining Services, especially those who work outside of the MUC, there’s hardly any options to eat from after work, and even fewer options for consistent ingredients to keep in their housing.
Programs like Cougar Cupboard aim to alleviate some of these problems, but despite their positive intentions the same problems remain regarding timing — the service is only available for one day a week during the summer. As it’s only open for five hours on every Wednesday, students with work or classes on Wednesday have even less opportunity to obtain necessary food/supplies for the week.
In this case, the solution isn't to just extend hours for all options available. There likely aren’t enough employees to cover that many shifts, and it’d be cruel to overwork employees during what is already a difficult time. Instead, the best solution would be to keep less locations open on campus, but lengthen their hours similarly to the standards set by the Fall and Spring semesters. Three or four locations to eat on campus that all stay open into the evening is more reasonable for both the employees and the students who need food.