The standard freshman meal plan at the University of Georgia costs $2,018 per semester.
Usually, that includes unlimited, seven-day-a-week access to five different dining halls, plus weekly pop-ups and on-campus food trucks.
This year, however, things are much different. The coronavirus pandemic has left students paying thousands of dollars for long lines, “sad” portion sizes and severely reduced food choices.
That’s according to several TikTok videos, which have gone viral in the weeks since UGA began reopening on August 14. Many of the clips, such as one shared on August 18 by sophomore Katie Toler, have brought the college’s dining situation to social media users nationwide.
“I love paying for glorified middle school cafeteria food,” Toler captioned her TikTok.
William O’Bannon, a sophomore at UGA, shared a similar video on August 19, in which students can be seen lining up single file for what he said was nearly a 40-minute wait time.
O’Bannon’s clip drew more than 1.2 million views on TikTok. The 19-year-old told In The Know it’s been encouraging to see student’s complaints go viral.
“Whenever you’re on social media, you kinda hope that at least something you post will go viral for the right reasons,” he said. “So when it actually happened I felt like I was actually being heard, and maybe the university would actually listen and change their policies.”
This attracted plenty of comments — both comedic and harshly serious — from users who were shocked by the school’s dining situation.
“They ate better at the Fyre Festival,” one user joked.
LMAO I’m sorry but they scammed y’all,” another added.
O’Bannon said he was “extremely disappointed” when he got back on campus. He wants the school to do “several things” to improve its dining options — including reducing prices.
That’s a sentiment several students seem to share. Most TikToks regarding UGA’s meal plan reference the cost — often while comparing its price tag to its underprepared or allegedly undercooked dishes.
Mittelhammer explained that the university has encouraged students to use Grubhub — a food delivery app — to order meals in advance, then pick them up from the dining halls. However, the plan has left many unimpressed.
“Kids are pretty upset that they’re paying for a pretty expensive meal plan and their only options — at least through Grubhub right now — are like, salads and sandwiches,” she said.
However, Mittelhammer noted that the school has taken some steps to make dining during the pandemic more accessible. In addition to pick-up orders, the university has also installed additional outdoor seating, so students can eat together while maintaining social distancing.
The Red & Black reported that UGA has also set up contactless, “quick stop” dining location, where students can grab sandwiches and other portable snacks.
Some students feel that’s not enough, though. O’Bannon said he feels especially bad for freshmen, who, with limited public dining options, are left without a major part of the college experience.
“I guess it just takes the social aspect of college out,” he said. “[The freshmen] come to college and want to live out their dream, then they’re stuck in their dorm all day.”
The issue isn’t limited to UGA, of course. College students across the nation have taken to social media to express their frustrations with their school’s handling of the pandemic.
At NYU, students used TikTok to call out their school’s “paltry” quarantine meals. Notre Dame students, meanwhile, have set up social media accounts and online petitions to demand their school take greater COVID-19 safety precautions.
“Honestly kids just wanna know what’s going on at other places and what kids their age are going through,” Mittelhammer said. “And so every college is dealing with it differently.”
UGA’s situation is at least somewhat unique, as the school is located in one of the 268,973 cases — the fifth most of any state. The university itself reported 173 cases between August 17 and 21 alone, according to the Red & Black.
If you liked this story, check out In The Know’s article on how young adults are dealing with substance use disorder during the pandemic.
More from In The Know: