Hungry and Homeless on Campus

UVenus writers respond to the growing awareness about food and housing insecurity on campus. 

October 25, 2017

There is growing awareness about food and housing insecurity on our campuses. Earlier this year, the Wisconsin HOPE Lab released “Hungry and Homeless in College,” a report surveying the situation for students at select community colleges in the United States.

The study highlighted groups of students who are most in need. Unemployed students and students of color at two-year institutions had the highest rates of food insecurity.

Do you have a food pantry on campus? Do you know if any of your students are experiencing housing insecurity? Are your students’ basic food and housing needs secure? How do you know?


Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, Evanston, IL

I am pleased to report that my campus does have a food pantry as well as new programs to provide first year students with linen and toiletries.  In addition, we have a new pilot program for first-year Pell-eligible students to receive some textbooks and lab equipment on loan. We are far from perfect, but we have taken steps in the right direction towards meeting student needs in a holistic sense.


Lee Skallerup Bessette, Fredericksburg, VA

I’ve worked at a number of campuses now that serve low-income, non-traditional, first-generation students. Not one had a food bank, at least when I was there. And I know students were going hungry, couch-surfing, sleeping in their cars, commuting long distances, so they would have a place to stay and a job to pay some of the bills. I know this because they would tell me. I started doing an assignment with my Freshman writers gathering on and off campus resources as a shared document that they could use or share as they needed. Now, on a small, liberal arts campus, and in a non-faculty role, these students are more hidden from me. No doubt they exist, but they are still largely invisible for the larger university community.


Jaime O’Connor, Savannah, GA

In my current role, I don’t have any direct contact with students, but I find it hard to imagine that there are not some on our campus that struggle with food insecurity. In my last teaching position, I kept a candy dish on my desk, and on many occasions, a student would come into my class, take the dish to their seat, and eat all of the candy. I knew that was probably the only food they would have that day. Meanwhile, the student sitting next to them would be eating sushi or a giant Chipotle burrito.

Because of the economic disparity of our student body, I was preparing to propose a crowd-sourced food pantry in my classroom to raise awareness of social differences and privilege. I was envisioning something that followed the Buddhist principle of generosity: gladly give what you can when you are asked, and receive what is offered to you graciously. I did not get to follow through due to a job change, but I think it could have been an empowering and enlightening experience.

Just a few years ago I was reliant on a food pantry while I was unemployed for eight months, and I will forever be grateful to the donors and staff at the Lakeview Pantry on the northside of Chicago. Their services gave me a sense of security and dignity during a frightening and stressful period of my life. Ensuring that college students have safe housing and sufficient food is critical to their academic success, but beyond that, shouldn’t we strive to meet those basic needs simply because it’s the right thing to do?


Yves Salomon-Fernandez, Cumberland County, New Jersey

We don’t know the exact percentage of students who are affected by food insecurity on campus; however, given our economic profile and anecdotal evidence from faculty and staff, we believed that it was a serious enough issue to partner with local farmers. Since late spring, our local farmers have maintained a free weekly farmers’ market for our students. Our students have access to fresh fruits and vegetables donated by local farms. We have students who come regularly to take advantage of this. We are pleased to be able to serve them in this way and grateful for our generous farmers who continue to contribute each week.


Meg Palladino, New Haven, CT

Our campus does not have a food pantry, and as far as I know, the housing and food needs of the students are generally met.  The problem that I hear about is during school breaks when the campus dining halls close.  In a meeting with first generation college students, one student reported that she was going on dates with people she met on the internet as a means to have a meal.  If there is a larger problem on campus, it is not one that is widely talked about.


Readers, do you have a food pantry on campus? Are your students’ basic food and housing needs secure? 



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