After a rocky start to the new school year, Vanderbilt Campus Dining announced a fifty dollar Meal Money credit for students that would reset daily August 24th through 29th. While this may have been nothing more than a policy decision for Campus Dining, one could not help but notice a change in the atmosphere among the student body. This change was especially significant for first-year students who were still adjusting to campus life.
At a time when their schedules were packed with mandatory orientation events and new classes, the Class of 2025 received some freedom and flexibility from the bonus Meal Money. While most first-years would typically eat a majority of their meals at Munchie Marts, the Commons Center, and Rand, this policy opened up opportunities for these new students to try restaurants around the city they just moved to. In their first week on campus, first-years were granted a risk-free opportunity to try everything from Taco Mama’s to the Grilled Cheeserie.
The additional funds worked to shorten waits in the dining halls as well. Prospective Biology major Ashton Helveston noted, “I actually went to Rand for breakfast one day when we still had the fifty dollars and I got through the line super quick and got to my class with no worries or stress.”
Many students worked to optimize this opportunity. Helveston was one of these students: “I made sure I spent every penny every single day.” However, not everyone felt the same way.
Jonathan Wilson, a first-year Mechanical Engineering major, pointed out that the daily expiration of the Meal Money “provided this incentive to spend all $50.” In spite of this, Wilson only spent all fifty dollars once in the six day period, stating, “I don’t really need all that extra food anyways.”
Some students went even further, noting it caused them some minor stress. “I felt more of a pressure to spend [the money],” shared Maya Anderson, a first-year studying Neuroscience and Asain Studies. Anderson further explained her feelings, saying she felt that she was “letting all this money go to waste.” Her feeling towards this did change as the week progressed: “Towards the end, I realized it’s not like I have to use it.”
Even though some students may have felt obliged to use this money, those feelings were only a small portion of this story. Some would argue that the money and what it was spent on were overshadowed by something far more important: community.
Anderson also shared about how the bonus Meal Money served as a basis for establishing connections on campus: “[My friends and I] ordered a bunch of food. We ended up sitting with our RA and my roommates and we played card games.” She accredits the bonus Meal Money as the cause for this fun evening with her friends on her floor.
While not perfect, these six days of fifty dollars of bonus meal money offered unique opportunities for the Class of 2025 to adjust to campus life by providing them with a sense of security in their ability to get food, encouraging them to try different cuisines around Nashville, and allowing them to form memories with their new classmates.