Tuesday, October 13, 2009

BUDS-Is it your pal?

Purchasing an overpriced, pretentiously named acai-blueberry-pomegranate Vitamin Water for $2.75 seems almost free when payed for with the swipe of a Brown ID. But what mechanisms are at work to create this illusion?
The entrance of the Brown University Dining Services office is tucked quietly behind the monstrous Sharpe Refectory, almost completely masked by tall, untrimmed hedges and an overgrown tree. Scattered with fallen leaves, the walkway seems to lead to nothing important and a slightly rotten swing that hangs lifelessly to the right, reminds one of childhood innocence. The familiar, faded brown sign outside, announces the space as simply another part of the seemingly unending Sharpe Refectory, but behind the nondescript, chipped door lies the control center and headquarters of the Brown Meal Plan. Upon entry, one is surrounded by a monochromatic entryway with an unmarked white door, a stairwell, and a glass door with metal grating preceded by a dirty rectangular carpet that subtly flows from the exterior door- this is the BUDS office. A small security camera hangs to the left above the entrance, hidden by a smoky gray orb. Again, no sign announces the importance of the space behind the superficially transparent entry (an illusion of openness), nor do any of the desks claim any identity, manned by anonymous workers, whose tasks are completely obscured from view. Almost no natural light penetrates the workspace through the few grate-covered exterior windows, as a woman with thick glasses monitors all who enter. A series of plaques hang on the cinder block walls authenticating the power exercised within the space, echoed by a secured door marked with AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.
The BUDS office's centralized location on campus hints at its role as the hub of the Brown meal plan, servicing over five eateries spanning nearly the entire breadth of campus. The effects of the power of the meal plan are exercised in all of the eateries that surround the campus in their multiplicity, through the use of flexpoints and meal credits. Most campus eateries are more accessible and convenient to students than the local food options up Thayer, commanding the majority of students' business. The university meal plan masks spending through the use of a prepaid, overpriced food plan accessed through the use of a small, nearly priceless plastic card. Run for profit, the meal plan creates an illusion of discount by offering bulk flexpoint rewards and by charging a lofty cash price to outsiders. When one subscribes to the meal plan, one commits oneself to using the service throughout the entirety of the year and, after the initial payment, feels as if each is use is free. With this commitment, students feel a sense of guilt (and thus a feeling of betraying the Ratty) when they eat off campus. Thus, through these implementations of power, the Brown University Dining Service conceals its own mechanisms and draws the student into its network. 
BY: Erik Maser and Stefan Offermann

No comments: