A new voice in the fight against campus food insecurityJan 30, 2020
As a master of public health candidate at the Colorado School of Public Health, I am currently using my degree to address one overlooked issue that many of my fellow students face: food insecurity. I have been involved with student food access for the past decade, volunteering at student food pantries, working in campus dining, and even staring in a “Cooking with Kim” series for my middle school. I don’t really enjoy cooking, but even from a young age, I was able to identify among my peers those that had access to healthy food and those who didn’t.
I recently addressed this gap with the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) at a convening that brought together leaders and advocates in student food security for the upcoming release of the Hunger Free Campus Checklist. Members from state agencies, higher education institutions, and nonprofits engaged in an interactive discussion, and the meeting ended with a visit from Governor Jared Polis and CDHE Executive Director Dr. Angie Paccione to assert their commitment to supporting the physical and financial well-being of students. The checklist will allow campuses to be designated as “hunger supporting” if they meet certain requirements to ensure the food security of their students. Attendees recommended and selected interventions that focus on education, providing services for students, and centralizing resources — all with the purpose of improving the effectiveness and feasibility of the checklist.
As I looked around the room during the convening, attendees were engaged, eager to share, and even more excited to bring what they learned that day back to their campuses and students. Though there was a range of recommendations on what the checklist should contain and how it should be implemented, there were three main concepts that we agreed on:
Campus food insecurity is an under-recognized issue with insufficient data. Though it may seem obvious that students with minimal income, unstable living situations and limited resources would be a high-risk population for food insecurity, most of the data, interventions and general awareness of this topic is new. In 2018, the Hope Center’s #RealCollege survey, the country’s largest assessment of students’ basic needs, reported that 45 percent of college students in the U.S. experienced food insecurity. Yet this still does not capture the full picture of this issue, and campuses should strive to collect more data on the impact it has on health, academics and employment.
SNAP is (VERY) confusing. Between uncertainty in eligibility, stigma, and a lack of enrollment assistance, of the 7.3 million students with household incomes below SNAP qualifications, only 2.3 million (31 percent) receive benefits. If students qualify for this vital service, there should be resources available that make it clear what they are eligible for and how to access these services.
The fight against food insecurity goes beyond just accessing food. Employment, social support and expenses are all root causes of food insecurity and create disparities in who has access to affordable and nutritious meals. By centralizing services, and really addressing these deeper causes of food insecurity, higher education institutions can support the need for housing, financial stability, healthcare and more.
If Colorado colleges and universities want the future generation of students, workers and leaders to succeed, they must provide basic resources; access to food should be no exception. By investing in student success today and ensuring that no student goes hungry or worries about where their next meal is coming from, schools will see increased graduation rates, improved grades, better mental health, and an overall thriving and inclusive campus. We need more data, more funding, and more of a young adult voice in the future of campus food security — students are hungry and want to be heard!
Kim Tolchinsky is an MPH candidate and a Young Advocate with Young Invincibles, working with lawmakers and campuses to advocate for the health and financial stability of young adults. She attended the University of Oregon, where she double majored in psychology and general science and worked in student health outreach on campus. She moved to Denver in 2018 to enjoy the lovely Colorado weather with her partner and adorable cat Rusty and will be graduating in Spring 2020 to start a career in public health policy.
Written by Kim Tolchinsky, MPH student (Health Systems, Management and Policy), for the Colorado Department of Higher Education.