Op-Ed Columns Opinion

Battling Food Insecurity on Campus

By Monica Sager

Picture a college student. You may see an affluent, young adult who comes from a privileged background with plenty of money for college, groceries, and any other necessary spendings. You may even imagine a lazy, privileged, and coddled person. 

But that’s not the reality.

More than half of students get some sort of support. Most college students do not end with a degree, and 90 percent of those that do have debt. Realistically, most family incomes are stagnant. College prices are higher than ever. Work doesn’t pay enough, and colleges themselves are underfunded. Today, federal SNAP regulations require people to work 20 hours per week for food stamps. College does not count as work. The value of minimum wage has declined so that many have to hold more than one job. It is harder to find work opportunities that are viable. Things are changing rapidly, and financial struggle is a reality for many. 

The issue of food insecurity among college students is on the rise. The term food insecurity is meant to describe those who do not have a stable source of nutritionally adequate food for a healthy and productive life. A 2018 survey of college students, conducted nationally by Sara Goldrick Rab, found 36 percent of university students and 42 percent of community college students were food insecure in the prior 30 days. Many students give money to their parents for food, leading to them being short for food. Many with food insecurity experience stress due to trying to keep up with classes, work, and the need to eat. This messes with cognitive functions, leading to students not being able to participate in class the same way others can. 

I am blessed to be a part of the student body here at Clark University. We care about our peers – as our motto literally is “Marginalization is not something we do here.” Yet, I’m confused when I see that we don’t have many resources on campus for food-insecure people. Clark doesn’t have much on its website or through clubs for food-insecure people that takes place on campus. We have the community garden, but that does not bloom all year round. There are no designated points of contact. There are no scholarships or emergency funding available for students. There is no way to donate extra meal swipes or dining dollars. The best a student can do typically is go to events hosted by clubs that include free food – which could potentially only include carbohydrates and are not obliging to a balanced diet. This lack of on-campus resources is detrimental to not only the students that need the help but also to what we represent as a campus as a whole. If the national average of 1/3 of college students being food insecure holds true, about 800 students are potentially food insecure at Clark alone.

And this initiative of finding solutions and remedies to food insecurity needs to continue at not just Clark. College campuses within Worcester need solutions. College campuses throughout Massachusetts need help. College campuses across the nation are in need.

As a Challah for Hunger Cohort member, I recognize the importance of one step, one talk, one email. Any effort you make can make us closer to ending food insecurity. Talk to your student government representatives; their job is to represent your voice and concerns. Reach out to your alma mater’s Dean of Students; she needs to be aware of issues pertinent to her campus. Do you have a child in college? Have them email the President of their college; he too can help. You can even take this initiative further: into the community, at town hall meetings, in discussion groups. Each and every voice and contact you add to this outreach is pertinent to the termination of food insecurity.

We cannot be successful as a community, as a nation even, unless we are all combatting food insecurity together.

Monica Sager is president of Clark University Hillel.

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