In mid-December 2017, Partners for Our Children proudly co-sponsored with Mazon, a federal briefing discussing hunger on college campuses. The briefing included comments from Congressmen Lawson (D-FL) and Danny Davis (D-IL), along with researchers, activists, providers, and students. The event highlighted the need for better federal support for students on a host of issues including food insecurity, housing, economic instability, social support and college completion.
Amy Ellen Duke Benfield, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy spoke first, and explained that college students today are rarely defined using a “traditional” notion of an 18-year-old, reliant on their parents. Today, 26% of college students have children and 62% work while in school. Despite these shifts, she argues, food assistance programs have not been updated. To be eligible for the federal Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) individuals must be employed at least 15 hours per week, often untenable for students.
Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, lead researcher on the landmark Hungry and Homeless study, discussed the prevalence of food insecurity and hunger on college campuses. More than half of our nation’s community college students have experienced food insecurity, along with somewhere between 33-50% of students at four-year institutions. These students experience a rate of hunger that is three times that of the general population.
The heroes of the event were the students who told their stories. Each spoke not only about the tangible challenges they have faced due to the dearth of supportive programming available, but also the deep stigma they encountered.
Mary Baxter, a single mother, discussed her challenges working and supporting her daughter while attending Philadelphia City College. Keyona Cooper spoke about her struggle meeting her basic needs during school breaks once she had aged-out of foster care. Sarah Levine, a first generation American, discussed her suffocating student debt, which deeply restricts her life and decisions – and still falls short of meeting her needs. Lastly, Jayln Wharton opened up about the challenges she has faced as a student supporting her family while also working part time, fulfilling the work study requirement necessary to pay her tuition, and completing her double majors in Chemistry and Accounting.
Marcy Stidum, Founder and Director of the Kennesaw State University Campus Awareness Resource & Empowerment (CARE) Services concluded by stating that the problem of campus hunger is hidden but not unique. She advocated for holistic responses to campus hunger that provide healthy options for students. Her program is amazing and we encourage you to check it out.
No Husky should go hungry: find information regarding the UW on campus food pantry for students and staff here.
Further readings on student food insecurity:
The Atlantic: The Hidden Hunger on College Campuses
Wisconsin HOPE Lab: www.wihopelab.com
U.S. News & World Report: To Cut Costs, College Students Are Going Hungry