To some at St. Olaf College, hot water is a human right. To others, it is a commodity. In the heart of harsh winter snowstorms, students find solace in filling their mugs with the piping hot water that serves as a base for tea. In early February, however, the solace of hot water suddenly came at a cost.
The Cage made a bold decision to start charging customers 50 cents for hot water, with an added cost for cups that rounded the price up to a little over a dollar.
It was rumored that the purpose for this new charge was to offset the costs of students “stealing” tea bags from the cafeteria. The decision to charge for hot water was met with great backlash by students.
In a public display of dismay, Baberich Abendan ’19 wrote an email to the general manager of Bon Appétit – as well as to President David Anderson – on Feb. 19. In the email, Abendan argued that students who pay full room and board shouldn’t have to pay for the water they’ve already paid for. His email was met with much support from other students in what became a long email thread of agreements.
In one reply, Jorge Hernandez ’22, a barista at the Cage, expressed his discontent with the “lack of transparency” between the Cage and himself about the new hot water cost. Hernandez said there was a point when he didn’t realize there was a newly attached price tag for hot water. Despite this backlash, the Cage continued to charge for hot water for an entire week. On Feb. 22, however, hot water became free again due to Abendan’s efforts. His emails to the President, Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Life, coupled with the support from much of the St. Olaf community, were responsible for making hot water free again.
In all honesty, I don’t think we should have been surprised about the new cost. When it comes down to it, Stav Hall and the Cage are businesses. If there’s a popular item that they can commodify, why not do so?
Most of my problem with this decision comes from its reasoning and execution. The idea that charging students for hot water could make up for tea bags they “stole” is questionable. Tea bags are part of the many beverage options at Stav Hall, which have been paid for at the door. The average student isn’t taking boxes of tea bags, which could then pose problems for others.
In that case, a hot water tariff would make sense. But that just isn’t the case here. In addition, I believe the execution of this plan lacked transparency and was poorly timed. I don’t know how many complaints the Cage would have received had they decided to charge for hot water in May, but I would argue there would have been less backlash than now, in the middle of a brisk winter. I personally don’t care if the Cage decides to charge for hot water, which is easy for me to say since my enthusiasm for tea has plateaued.
The Cage is a business, and I don’t expect it to always have my best interests in mind. If the price is too steep to deal with, there are alternatives to getting hot water, such as boiling water in a pan or using an electric kettle. The real problem of this event lies in the lack of transparency between the students and the managers of the Cage.
Kholood Mo’allim ’22 (email@example.com) is from Eden Prairie, Minn. Her major is undecided.