(WBIR-Knoxville) An effort to stop meal plan changes at the University of Tennessee has gained momentum, with over 1,000 students signing an online petition.
Robert Naylor, a senior, started the petition after hearing the university will be requiring all freshman living on campus to purchase a meal plan. Under the changes, which are set to start in the fall of 2015, any other student taking six credit hours or more will be required to purchase $300 Dining Dollars.
"I knew there was this much outrage. I knew there was this many students who were already upset about the issue. So I'm glad the petition was able to reach that many people," said Naylor.
As of Thursday evening, the petition on moveon.org had 1,023 signatures, including commuters and members of the Greek community.
One signer commented that her sorority already requires members to purchase a meal plan through the chapter house, adding that she can't afford both.
"I started the petition as a way for students to voice their concerns. A lot of people have issues with being forced to pay for something they don't want,"said Naylo. "And we have a lot of non-traditional students on campus."
"It's going to hurt a lot of students, like older students that have spouses or kids. It's going to hurt people that are on some type of diet," said Nadine Majaj, a senior. "This is our money and as a student we should have a say on what we want to spend it on, whether we want to spend it on Dining Dollars or food at the grocery store."
Majaj said a lot of students are talking about the changes. While she will graduate this year, she says other students shouldn't be forced to dish out cash for a mandatory meal plan.
"After freshman year you're ready to be financially responsible and kind of make your own budget for your food, for your gas, for your fun, so it kind of takes one of the things of the college experience away, that kind of teaches you to be a grownup and be out in the real world on your own," said Majaj.
"I've heard a lot of people talking about this. Most people are upset about it for sure," said Alexandra Disterdick, a freshman. "I don't see the point in doing that because honestly they're going to give you the money back anyways if you don't use it."
The University of Tennessee said if students do not use the $300 Dining Dollars, it can be fully refunded via check, or rolled over to become "All Star" dollars, which can be used at Cumberland Avenue restaurants or vending facilities on campus that sell books, supplies, and apparel.
In an emailed statement Thursday, Karen Simens, Director of Media and Internal Relations, said: "Because the plan dollars are refundable, it will be up our Dining Services facilities to earn those dollars from our students every semester. They will strive to do this by having the most convenient locations and by offering the largest variety of dining and snack options that best fit our students' lifestyles."
Simens also reiterated the changes won't take effect until fall 2015, when more dining options will be open, with more options to follow in 2016.
10News reached out the president of the Student Government Association, Kelsey Keny. She said she met with administrators Thursday and suggested compromises.
"We've been hearing concerns from some students who don't agree with the concept of mandatory dining dollars. Overall, there are mixed opinions around campus, and administrators really are still listening to what students have are saying," said Keny.
Simens said the changes do not need a vote to take effect, since they are part of the 2015 budget policy.