Written by Nancy Vargas
In the public health courses I have taught, we often talk about food insecurity and stress. In a reflective exercise, I had students write about their current stressors. Many students living on campus wrote about their food insecurity and the stress that came with it. Students living at home frequently skipped meals while on campus and waited until they got home to eat. Students living on campus typically had a limited meal plan and could not afford to buy additional meals. While I had struggled with food insecurity as an undergrad, I thought I was one the few that was affected by this issue. I realized I lacked knowledge about college student demographics and the resources I could provide for them.
Is food Insecurity Among College Undergrads an Issue? How Does It Affect Learning?
According to the most recent nationwide survey conducted by the Wisconsin HOPE LAB, 36% of college students are food insecure. Of those students that qualify for public food assistance, 80% do not receive benefits. Students might not be receiving assistance due to poor resources, lack of knowledge about where to receive assistance, or the stigma associated with receiving assistance. Having this unmet basic need is associated with negative academic outcomes such as lower grades and a lower chance of graduating. Students cannot focus on their studies if they are hungry. Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) need to be aware of these statistics in order to realize that it is an issue on campus that affects student learning. GTAs need to intervene in order to facilitate student success.
How can a GTA help Address the Issue?
- Add a “Basic Needs” statement on your syllabus
This statement provides a resource on campus where students can go if they are experience food insecurity or lack other basic needs. The Human Services Resource Center (HRSC) is a great place for students to start and the center also provides several basic needs statements on its website that you can use, including a version for Ecampus instructors who may have students from outside of the Corvallis area.
- First Day of Class Resources Scavenger Hunt
On the first day of class you could have your students break into teams and be part of a scavenger hunt. As part of this scavenger hunt, they have to visit various on campus resources that can facilitate student success such as the HSRC, the cultural centers, the health center, writing center, etc. Not only does this make students more familiar with resources, it can create bonds between students.
- Take a tour or have your class take a tour the HSRC
If you take a tour of the HSRC, you could describe all the integral components of the center first hand. Since my class discussed food insecurity, I included a tour of the HSRC in my course schedule. Many students said it was their first time visiting the HSRC even though they knew they were in need and could utilize the recourses. As part of the tour, they walked through the pantry and walked through multiple processes. After class, many of the students stayed behind to find out more information or have a discussion with peers in a similar situation. Students also said they referred many of their friends to the center and plan to utilize it in the near future.
- Reduce stigma by sharing your struggles
I think the biggest barrier is the stigma surrounding seeking resources. When discussing this issue, I highlight the food insecurity I faced growing up and in college and how there were years that my family was doing well and some years that we were not. Even if we are food secure now, there are other structural forces that can affect our food security tomorrow. I encourage all of you to be vulnerable by sharing your struggles and I guarantee you will connect more with your students and help them seek the resources they need to succeed in school.