It's true. College meal plans are really stunting our growth. Not our height, but our growth. Already stuck in a societal sphere of pseudo-adulthood, college meal plans only serve to further confuse college-age students about their place in society. A wealth of new responsibility is thrust upon a college freshman the moment their foot first touches campus. First-years must choose courses that could potentially determine their career path; they must get to class and do their homework with no parent over their shoulder to ensure it; they must take themselves to the doctor if they feel sick and ensure that their bodies receive proper nutrients; they must do their own laundry and keep their personal spaces in livable conditions; they must be fiscally responsible with their own money and take out loans that will hang over them for many years to come. These responsibilities may be old for some and very new for others, but regardless of how exactly a transition occurs for an individual, college is the first time when many teens are expected to (successfully) act autonomously.
For all our power in choosing our futures, in signing away our futures to years of debt, we are still metaphorically, if only slightly, spoon-fed by our universities. At my own university there used to be a modicum of individuality afforded to the stomachs of students who were lucky enough to live in on-campus housing that came with a kitchen. Certain buildings on-campus that had kitchens did not require meal plans, while more traditional dorms did. Everything changed last week when the university informed students that all those who live on-campus must purchase a meal plan, regardless of the fully functional kitchen only two steps from their room. One can get out of the meal plan only by living off-campus. An initially attractive prospect, renting off-campus means either trudging through feet of snow for most of the school year to get to class, or digging out your car before skidding on black ice and not finding a parking spot on campus. It also means becoming more isolated from campus culture, friends, and activities.
I get that this is all about money -- it is just another way for universities to wring every penny from our pockets. But universities are also environments in which students are meant to learn and grow during a time when they're figuring stuff out and cramming information into their heads. This period of young adulthood is confusing enough already -- figuring out what we want to do with our futures, worrying we'll lead ourselves in the wrong direction, exploring what we stand for and how to stand for it. Requiring meal plans keeps college students dependent on someone else during the period when we are learning to be autonomous. For all of the freedom afforded to us in college environments, meal plans serve as a slap in the face of our independence. You can study to be a doctor -- but you can't make yourself breakfast.