Hidden Hunger on College Campuses

BY MOHAMMAD QAYUM

(Jannis Werner/Getty Images)

Across the U.S., thousands of students pursue higher education by enrolling in two-year or four-year institutions. Students cite different reasons for attending, but college ultimately better prepares them for the competitive world outside of the school setting. Despite some belief that colleges can be a speed bump on the road to success, studies show that a college degree drastically boosts the chance of having a middle-class life, despite the extreme costs of obtaining one. It is no secret that tuition prices are increasing and are a major cause of stress for students across America. However, there is another issue – stemming partly from high tuition prices – that is not paid enough attention:  student hunger.

Current data holds that around half of American students lack food security, with around 20 percent experiencing severe food insecurity. Food security can be defined as the “state of having reliable access to food.” Students who face severe food insecurity do not know when or where their next meal will come from. The numbers are frightening; around 48 percent of students report this type of food insecurity. To put it in perspective, one of every two people in a given college in the U.S. is not sure where their next meal will come from. Food insecurity is an issue that is screaming for a national solution, an issue that Congress and President Trump can address and tackle within the next year. A lot of problems surrounding food insecurity for students can potentially be solved by revitalizing the Higher Education Act of 1965. Continuing tuition hikes, housing insecurity and rising rent, and educational funding are also issues that could be addressed at the national level. On Dec. 3, 2017, Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) introduced HR. 4508, also known as the PROSPER ACT, which will work on improving communication between the federal government, state, and higher education boards, as well as authorizing money, grants, and aid to various post-secondary educational institutions. The Bill currently sits in the House of Representatives waiting to be voted on. President Trump should push Congress to prioritize an educational reform bill and sign it without hesitation.

While federal reform will ultimately be the solution to student hunger problems, local initiatives from schools themselves can go a long way in helping improve the lives of students. The University of California system estimates that about 25 percent of their students are forced to skip a meal on a regular basis due to lack of financial resources. At UCLA, one student named Rachel Sumekh, who was an undergraduate in 2009, started a movement known as Swipes for the Homeless, which turned unused student meal plans into “swipes” for students that needed it, as well as for the community of homeless people around the campus. Eventually, the project gained momentum and it was renamed Swipe out Hunger, a movement that now works in campuses all across the United States. Local movements like this can be the foundation, helping solve this problem step by step. At UC Davis, the CalPIRG program estimates that about one in five students go hungry on campus. Our campus has an Associated Student Government program called The Pantry, run on campus in Lower Freeborn Hall in Room 21. The program allows students to obtain three food or personal items per day with a valid student ID. The recent ASUCD Elections at the school brought forth multiple candidates wishing to address the hunger issue. Senator-elect Alisha Hacker, who won the third seat for the upcoming 2018-19 school year, stated, “I believe that the ASUCD has a large role to play in combating hunger on campus. By making The Pantry better known and getting students more informed, we can tackle the issue one by one.” The ASUCD Senate will vote on a $14 million-dollar budget and hopefully put forth strong solutions for campus hunger. Local movements will always play a large role in society, but federal reform is essential for solving this issue. It is the hope of everyone that a comprehensive solution will be found to serve all students facing this struggle.

If you are interested in fighting food insecurity at UC Davis, please visit thepantry.ucdavis.edu to see how you can help.

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