The Student Experience.
The university’s food infrastructure is built primarily for the on-campus experience. While on-campus students have access to meal plans and dining halls, off-campus students have the difficult job of finding healthy meals all on their own.
Though SUNY Oswego compensates more for on-campus students, it has not completely forgotten about off-campus.
SUNY Oswego senior Luis Rodriguez said he was unaware of a food pantry located in Penfield Library.
The lack of advertisement for programs like the food pantry, which is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “No Student Goes Hungry” program, is another reason students have a hard time finding healthy foods.
Run by S.H.O.P., or Students Helping Oz Peers, the pantry is an alternative available to students who might have difficulty affording necessities like food and winter clothing. It is located in room three of the basement in Penfield library. The hours vary per semester, and you can find them out here.
“I’ve been eating alot of McDonald’s this semester. I didn’t find out about the pantry until recently,” Rodriguez said.
Most of the items in the school’s pantry are nutritious alternatives given out for free to students, as opposed to items they would have to purchase at places like Kinney’s and Fastrac.
Rodriguez compares his experiences while being a resident on campus to having to fend for himself every night. The off-campus food situation has students wondering why there is not more done to help off-camp students.
“My first year living off-campus, my grades took a serious dip,” Rodriguez said. “I got away from the fruits and
vegetables that I was eating and it seemed like all I was eating was pizza and wings.”
SUNY Oswego alumnus Derek Greenough, who lived on campus during his time at the university, also worked in the dining halls.
“I think that it’s as close as you can get to mom’s home cooking while away at school,” Greenough said about the food they served. “If you choose the right foods, you can eat a well-balanced and nutritious meal every time you go to the dinning hall. Don’t be fooled, though. There are some questionable dishes sometimes.”
When he worked, he would get a free meal that would cover his dinner for the evening. But for the most part, his day consisted of a protein bar in the morning and then dinner at night.
During his stay in The Village, most of his groceries came for the local Walmart, where he would spend about $40 per week.
When he did not cook, his first stop would be to McDonald’s. Greenough said he considered himself to be in average health during his time at school.
“While living on campus, I was conscious about what I was eating while I had a meal plan,” Greenough said.
But once he moved off of the meal plan, the choices made available to him were less than ideal.
“When I didn’t have a meal plan anymore, I ate junk food and McDonald’s more than I would like to admit,” he said.
Ultimately, he felt, while using a meal plan, he could be considered healthy, but then when he dropped the plan, the scale started to tip in the opposite direction.
The food options available to students who do not use the dining hall or curated meal plans do not make healthy living easy. Many students find the biggest challenge to be balancing health and academics.
SUNY Oswego junior Anuedis Guitterrez pinpoints the moment when his academic life became more difficult.
“For my first two years, I was on the dean’s list,” Guitterrez said. “After moving off campus my junior year, I became more sluggish and less engaged in my school work.”
Guitterrez attributes much of this to the different lifestyle that living off campus promotes, as well as his terrible eating habits.
“I know how bad McDonald’s is, so I seriously tried to avoid it. I thought I was being healthier by not eating it, but I was still ordering from places like Wonzone Calzones, which wasn’t making things any better,” he said.
Guiterrez, who would usually exercise three to four days a week while living on campus, no longer has the energy to wake up in the morning and get going.
“When I was on campus, I would eat breakfast more and that would give me the energy to go to the gym. When I’m off campus, I don’t have the time in the morning every day to eat because I might miss the bus,” he said.
Jake Pritchard, a Resident Assistant (RA) at SUNY Oswego, spoke about how becoming an RA has affected his health.
“My room is completely paid for, and I have a single [room],” Pritchard said. “My board is half paid for by the school, and I pay the other half.”
Being an RA does have its benefits, but it also comes with certain responsibilities. All RAs have to work the front desk around 15 times per semester. These shifts can vary from one to three hours and be as early as 10 a.m. or as late as 3 a.m.
This schedule can sometimes make it difficult to eat routinely and at normal times.
“I’m an RA for Cayuga Hall, so I usually eat at Pathfinder for my meals, just because it’s the closest dining hall to my building,” Pritchard said. “My eating habits compared to when I’m home are much different. At home, I eat what’s provided for me. In college, I’m surrounded by so many options. Making bad decisions about what to eat is a reoccurring thing.”
Being a college student can sometimes feel like you are a plate spinner, trying to strike a balance between academic responsibility, health and various jobs you may have.
“I do love the benefits of being an RA,” Pritchard said. “But my grades have taken a dip. It’s hard to balance school and being an RA.”
“The two main things for college students is, are your stress levels healthy, and are you maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active,” said Amy Bidwell, a health and nutrition professor at SUNY Oswego.
She currently runs a course called “Bounce on to Campus,” a wellness program focusing on nutrition. It educates freshman on how to make positive choices about their health and nutrition.
College students, as a demographic, are the most at risk from nutritional harm, Bidwell said.
“It’s because, especially freshmen and sophomores, when you live on campus, it’s all you can eat, essentially,” Bidwell said. “And for freshmen, with the unlimited meal plan, that’s exactly what it is.”
When students first enter college, they leave a familiar environment of when and where to eat. Some of them might have been physically active in high school and could have had someone making sure they were eating on a schedule.
But in college, you are moving away from that controlled situation.
“[You are going] to a situation where you’re sitting in class all day and you have this all-you-can-eat buffet setting, so there’s this constant flow of food thrown at you,” Bidwell said.
Currently, the school offers a dining app where students can tailor meals to their liking. Students can check out nutritional information and find what options best suit their needs.
“It’s an amazing app with healthy options, but if you don’t prepare and look at it ahead of time, you might immediately go to the fried chicken or something,” Bidwell said.
According to Bidwell, it is all about education and awareness, an area the school could do better in.
“If you don’t eat in the dining hall, that’s an issue. Because there is no app where you can look up the calorie requirements, and most of the foods they offer in the dining halls and cash facilities [around campus] aren’t healthy,” Bidwell said. “I would say 90 percent of the foods are not healthy.”
Though it is attempting to move in a better direction, the school still needs to do more in order to sustain and
promote the health of off-campus students.
One of the issues seems to be students are going to eat what they want to eat. Most college students prefer a high-calorie and greased-soaked diet.
“So, just as any industry, you’re going to supply what people like. And typically, unfortunately, that revolves around unhealthy food,” Bidwell said. “It’s up to us, as educators, to educate people on how to, at least, make some of those unhealthy foods work in their favor.”
Whereas on-campus students have access to meals tailored by a registered dietitian, off-campus students have Domino’s Pizza, Wonzones Calzones and McDonald’s, among others.
“It’s not the best for [off campus]. The choices are limited. Fast food joints and such is pretty much what it is full of,” Bidwell said.
The school provides a meal plan for all full-time students. That meal plan consists of breakfast, lunch, dinner and a late night option. Students are able to alter their meal plan to their liking by taking away meals they don’t feel they need.
The full meal plan for the 2018-2019 school year cost $2,675, according to the Auxiliary Services website. The Any 12, nine, seven and five meal plans cost $2,490, $2,350, $2,045 and $1,660, respectively. The Any 2 plan came to $1,130 for the year.
The full meal plan offers unlimited meals in all of the dining halls on campus. It gives students unrestricted access to meals during all the meal times and comes with $80 in Laker Dining Dollars.
The Any meal plan allows students to eat an allotted amount of meals per week, from five, seven, nine and 12. In addition to those meals, students began the semester with a gifted amount of Laker Dining Dollars.
With each number of Any meal you choose, the amount of Laker Dining Dollars you get decreases. So, if you have the five meals option, you get $110 in Laker Dining Dollars, and with the 12 meal option, you get $80 in dining dollars.
Laker Dining Dollars works for all of the dining halls on campus, as well as for Domino’s Pizza, Oswego Sub Shop and Wonzones Calzones.
The Any 2 meal plan is only available for students who live in The Village, Moreland or Lonis and comes with $250 in Laker Dining Dollars.
Whereas the meals reset at the start of each week, the dining dollars do not. It is up to students to replenish that with their own money, should they choose to do so.
This is another challenge for off-campus students. Should they pay more to eat on campus or at the three establishments listed?
“You could, theoretically, go down that strip and eat everything healthy, if you really put your mind to it,” Bidwell said about Bridge Street and its medley of food joints. “Portion size is a big thing; instead of three Big Macs, have one. Instead of fries, get a salad. For us, as a community, students, faculty and staff, we need to educate each other on what these unhealthy foods are doing and how to make them healthy.”
A couple of places where students can find nutritional information are the dining app and information posted outside the dining halls. Nutritional practices are also encouraged within the dining hall menus. You can also get in touch with Kathryn Szklany, the school’s registered dietitian.
Aside from that and courses offered through the school, there seems to be few areas where students can find the necessary information.
But according to Bidwell, the school is trying to remedy that.
“[The school] has started a wellness coalition made up of people from this department as well as the registered dietitian,” Bidwell said. “People from Mary Walker, people from Lifestyles, people from Human Resources are on
there. People from student services are on there.”
Bidwell says their goal over the past year has been to “enhance, not just nutrition awareness, but wellness awareness across campus.”
“The campus is moving in a direction of trying to increase awareness of nutrition or physical activity and stress management for students,” Bidwell said.
In order to minimize stress, Bidwell recommends talking to Mary Walker Health Center. It has trained professionals who can help students with the weight a lot of them are under.
Students can also reach out to friends, family and even their professors should they need some extra help.
Ruth Stevens, the head of dining services at SUNY Oswego, works directly with the school dietitian Kathryn Szklany to create the school menu. They also work to create accommodations for vegans, gluten-free students and people with allergies.
“The responsibility of the school is to give high-quality food options,” Stevens said.
According to Stevens, buying food that students actually want to eat and is nutritionally satisfying is a balancing act that they are still figuring out how to master. In addition, from speaking with Stevens, it seems that “healthy” is a fuzzy term.
What is healthy for one student may not be for another, and the food you eat may have different effects based on who you are.
Getting Physically Active.
Stevens said physical health is directly related to academics, meaning the healthier you eat, the more energy you have in the classroom.
“Just get up and move,” Bidwell said.
It only takes 150 minutes of mild to moderate exercise a week to promote a healthy heart. That works out to a mere
30 minutes of exercise across five days, and it all does not have to be done at once.
Five minutes here, five minutes there, and before you know it, your heart is going strong.
“Walk to class. Don’t take the elevator. It won’t necessarily get you to lose weight, but it will help you maintain your weight and maintain your overall health,” Bidwell said.
Other places where students can get physically active are Cooper Fitness Center and Glimmerglass Fitness Center. Cooper is located between Hart and Funelle residence halls, while Glimmerglass is located between Oneida and Onondaga residence halls.
SUNY Oswego offers fitness gym memberships in the beginning of each semester. Both gyms are completely free for a week to any student to give them a feel of what they have to offer.
According to Brian Wallace, the college’s Fitness Center manager, the free week is a way for students to tryout the gym without committing to a membership right away. They typically try to target freshmen and incoming students as new members.
If a student does decide to get a membership, the cost will vary depending on if they live on or off campus. And the longer the student has lived on campus for, the lower the cost will be.
For on-campus students, a membership for the academic school year will cost $110. But for off-campus students, it costs between $120-$130 depending on how many semesters the student has lived on campus.
The most expensive gym membership at $140 for the year is for students who commute to campus.
The reasons behind the cost differences are that students who live on campus already pay a small fee for the gym. So the school charges less to those who are already paying that fee, which equals out the cost difference compared to those who do not live on campus.
So what can students do in order to strike this required balance between stress management, a healthy diet and physical fitness?
“Take my bounce class! That’s exactly what it [tells you],” Bidwell said. “The number one rule: avoid late night. Number two, eat breakfast, even if it is just a granola bar or a piece of fruit. Number three, plan ahead. The problem that college students have is that the more stress they get the less time they have, so they don’t plan ahead of time and grab some fast, convenient foods like McDonald’s.”
College students hold the most risk for unhealthy living. Watch how much you eat, what you eat and where you eat.
Consider what you put into your bodies, and do your best to lead an active life.
And do not forget to take time out for your mental health. Talk to your friends, family and those who are trained to help you. Your psyche is just as important as your physical health.
Get up and move when you can. It only takes five minutes a day to promote a healthy heart. Or join a gym. There are two fitness centers located on campus that are available to students. You will feel better and perform better within the classroom because of it.
Education is our strongest weapon against unhealthy lifestyles. We are surrounded by unhealthy, quick, food options. But the best thing we can do is educate people on what their body needs and why we should not eat these grease-soaked foods.
“If I had to give one piece of advice, it would be for everybody to move. Get on their feet. Get active,” Bidwell added.