A sophomore, Travis Daniel Wilson is a founding member of the Coalition Against Mandatory Meal Plans at the University of Tennessee. The group includes UTK Campus Disability Advocates, UTK Amnesty International, UTK Fencing Club, Eco-Vols, UTK College Democrats, UTK Students for Liberty, and the Progressive Student Alliance, and is protesting a proposal that would mandate students purchase a $300 Dining Dollars meal plan even if they do not live on campus.
What’s your essential goal here?
CAMMP wants to ensure that the voices of students are heard on this issue, as our own SGA is apparently unable to vote against this proposed policy change. This group of students and our supporters do not want to be ignored—we want to bring knowledge of this issue to the groups around campus, and to all of the students, since all will come to be affected. We formed on Nov. 6, and it is our hope that we defeat this proposal in its entirety.
How did such an interesting assembly of student groups come to care about this issue?
We care because we’re middle class students, or at least we were. We care because we are workers, we have held minimum wage jobs in order to pay for rent or tuition, we have seen our friends suffer from price increases and leave UT, and annually we continue to be faced with a system that doesn’t seem to care enough to take the views of concerned students into account. Beyond that, let’s be honest: very few Americans enjoy being told what to do with their money without any say. It seems to be one issue that everyone agrees upon, regardless of class, gross income, religion, political ideology, etc.
What is the timeline for decisions?
As I understand it, we have until December 1st to attempt to express our sentiments to the administration through approved channels and methods.
How’d you get interested in this cause?
Because of my own personal financial situation, and because of personal dissatisfaction with communication between the administration and students.
Are students becoming desensitized to more charges from the university?
I think that the lack of communication on campus between commuters and non-commuters, especially those who are working and going to school at UT, has certainly facilitated both a desensitization to the rising costs at UT and a general unawareness of policy changes. Ironically, this often follows the income divide among students. Those who have the time to become aware of the policy change are often those who can afford it. Those who cannot afford it often have the least opportunity to learn about the workings on campus or to recognize the changes, protest and e-mail their senators and so forth.
How did you feel about UT’s meal plan before this started?
While I have purchased food on campus, it’s not a preference—it’s a financial burden to be consistently confronted with it. However, as I do not and never have had a meal plan, I cannot say with overwhelming certainty that this is the case for everyone. I’ve had such sentiments corroborated by many of my friends, regardless of their class or family income. We all tend to agree that the food is overpriced, and I would argue that the food we’re allowed to choose from doesn’t cater to the needs of certain students—vegans, vegetarians, those with food allergies.]
How much do you pay personally to eat in a given week?
I try to spend less than fifty dollars, if that.
Do you like to cook?
I love to cook! As often as I am able, as I’m fairly busy during the school week because of a multiplicity of extracurricular commitments.
Does your field of study intersect at all with this coalition’s aims?
I’m a Global Studies Major with a Minor in Classics, and potentially another minor in Political Science. I would say that the effects of corporate control over the food choices on a college campus pertain to at least two of those fields of study, yes.
Do you feel the proponents of mandatory meal plans have any valid points?
As far as I’ve observed, there is no valid point. Students face tuition hikes each year, and while buying food on campus may be an expensive convenience for those who can afford it, there are those among the student body that truly cannot afford it. It is unfair to require of any of us more money when we already struggle to stay at this university, purely for fiscal reasons.
Will any more conservative groups join you—say, Young Republicans?
I think that it depends upon the relations the heads of the more conservative groups have with the other groups on campus, and their interpersonal relationships with the leaders of CAMMP. I know several liberal people who are quite apathetic to this change because of personal affluence or a disbelief in the ability of the students to implement the changes we want, along with several conservative people who will be deeply affected by this change because of their finances.
Will there be any demonstrations?
Only if we are ignored by the administration. We aren’t a fringe group of liberals—we represent many students with legitimate financial needs. If we are ignored, I imagine we will escalate from simply trying to raise awareness and gain support, yes. It’s never too late to stand up for your needs—to give voice to the unheard, and to communicate effectively and professionally with those who have the right to alter our future circumstances. I hope that this coalition helps to change the conventional viewpoint that youth are generally politically apathetic—at least in the realm of UT.