Student access to Plan B varies on college campuses

As the issue of contraception coverage at Catholic institutions continues to draw attention, shifts or questions over student access to the morning-after pill are arising at colleges of all types.

Florida tells professors not to exclude students because of coughs

University acts after it received a complaint.

North Texas opens 'Big 8' allergen-free dining hall

Serving increasing numbers of students with allergies, University of North Texas joins Michigan State in offering a dining hall free of the most common food allergens.

After student death, University of Maryland deep cleans dorm rooms

University of Maryland, College Park, officials are disinfecting every residence hall after a deadly viral outbreak on campus. Some have questioned whether the problem stems from persistent mold issues.

U of Maryland will reconsider policies after backlash over student mental health, temporary eviction

A University of Maryland student who voluntarily checked into the hospital for a mental health scare wasn't allowed back into her campus apartment, which struck many on campus as insensitive.

Universities launch Zika prevention efforts in Florida and across the U.S.

Florida colleges are facing the greatest danger, but experts say institutions everywhere must plan for possible risks, too.

Meningitis on three campuses leads to one outbreak and one death

Cases of meningitis at three universities have sickened four students -- three in a single outbreak -- and led to death of one employee.

Oregon State among few institutions to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits

Earlier this month, Oregon State University began accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits at campus grocery stores. Few other colleges participate in the program.

The toll hunger takes on college students (essay)

One morning this fall, I found a student in a lounge writing a sign on a piece of a brown cardboard box. One side of the cardboard box already said, “I NEED -- SOME MONEY. A SANDWICH*.” At the bottom, it said, “*a graphing calculator.” The student had an overstuffed backpack and a couple of also-stuffed plastic bags.

Professional development applied: the overstuffed backpack and the plastic bags were a signal to ask, “Do you have anywhere to stay tonight?”

She did not. She was registered for fall courses and had a work-study job ready. I took her to the office for these situations. A colleague starting calling shelters. We gave her some food and offered a graphing calculator from the Textbook Assistance Program. She went off to the library to fill out more financial aid applications.

Hunger and food stamps, not sentence fragments, not thesis statements. Hunger and food stamps have been my major professional development since I started teaching College Writing I and doing other odd jobs at Bunker Hill Community College, in Boston. Some weeks, I have spent more time helping students sign up for food stamps than I have correcting essays. Same for many colleagues.

Professional development? Well, no one says “food stamps” anymore. SNAP -- Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program -- is the bloodless euphemism for federal food stamps for the hungry. But SNAP is not for the hungry. No -- SNAP is for people suffering from “food insecurity.” This term encompasses both an aching stomach and having no idea where the next meal is coming from.

More professional development: What is hungry? This is from the SNAP application:

You may get SNAP benefits within seven days if one of the following is true:

  • Does your income and money in the bank add up to less than your monthly housing expenses? __ Yes __ No
  • Is your monthly income less than $150 and your money in the bank $100 or less? __ Yes __ No
  • Are you a migrant worker and is your money in the bank less than $100? __ Yes __ No

Every day, students at Bunker Hill Community College are filling out or renewing SNAP applications.

Wednesdays at the end of each month, the Greater Boston Food Bank delivers 5,000 pounds of groceries. An orderly line of sometimes hundreds of students cleans the food off the tables and packs their groceries for home in an hour. Faculty and staff volunteer to set up, hand out the food and clean up.

Why the end of the month? Professional development: the food-insecure students and the food bank know the monthly SNAP benefits buy about three weeks of food.

Professional development: learn best practices for campus food banks from CUFBA, the College and University Food Bank Alliance. As of December 2015, CUFBA has 248 active member institutions.

There's one data point that almost no one in higher education wants to hear: the local percentage of K-12 students eligible for federal free and reduced-price lunch.

Why the aversion? Knowing means asking the obvious follow-up question: How will these same students, going on to college or a trade school, have lunch?

  • Boston: 80%
  • Chicago: 85%
  • Los Angeles Unified School District: 59%
  • Miami Dade: 73%
  • New York City: 67%
  • Washington, D.C.: 53%

(Source: Wisconsin HOPE Lab and federal Common Core.)

These numbers scare me, too. With actual hungry students often at my office door, I can’t look away. Let me try here again with my crazy, fuse-blown policy syllogism that sends educations officials and leaders into hiding:

(1) Eighty percent of the Boston K-12 students are on federal free and reduced lunch. Eighty. Eighty. Eighty percent.

(2) National and local policies urge these young people to continue for a postsecondary credential.

(3) And yet we make no provision for lunch when these students go on to Boston’s Roxbury and Bunker Hill Community Colleges?

When I first wrote about hunger and college students in 2012 (click here for the column), two public radio hosts admitted when interviewing me that they had thought I was making up the story. Those who don’t want to know are a distinguished group -- former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and the president of the American Association of Community Colleges. I’ve contacted both often, politely, on- and off-line. I choose to retain my unbridled optimism that one day soon the most recent commissioner of higher education in Massachusetts will agree to a meeting on hunger.

One summer Friday, a student who said he was homeless asked me how he could register for classes without an address. “Have you had anything to eat today?” I asked. This is a question many colleagues ask all the time. He had not. I gave him money to go to the cafeteria, and I told him to buy two sandwiches. What would he eat for the weekend?

Professional development: you have to ask, “Have you had anything to eat today?” Students dissemble if the question is, “Are you hungry?”

Professional development: food-insecure students will often not take as much food as they need. The aforementioned student brought me one of the two sandwiches. I gave that back to him.

Another student who had told me, “I guess you could tell that I haven’t eaten since yesterday,” had taken only a small bottle of orange juice. With a nudge, she accepted a hot dog, which she ate, and three sandwiches that she said she would take home to her children.

Professional development? That feeding students is routine?

Weekdays, volunteers from FoodLink deliver cases of leftover bread from Panera -- I calculate 31,200 loaves since the deliveries began in 2012. A private donor provides about 80 $25 Stop & Shop food cards each month -- $1,900 with Stop & Shop discount.

These, like the food bank, began after my public radio interviews. The bread and the cards and the food bank operate through Single Stop, a nonprofit that helps community college students in eight states sign up for food stamps and other social services.

Text messages announce the daily bread and food deliveries.

“Bananas and bread arriving in ten min.”

“Be there in one hour with salad, sandwiches, strawberries, tomatoes and bread. And bananas.”

“Delivering now!”

Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor at the University of Wisconsin and an advocate for helping low-income students complete college, is the inspiring lead in trying to gather data on the amount of hunger on college campuses. The Wisconsin Hope Lab, which she founded, joined the American Council on Education, the largest higher education lobby, in asking the U.S. Department of Education to gather information on hunger in college. That ACE has acknowledged the issue is a leap forward in this sad campaign.

A bit of progress is the brief squall of press before Christmas, when The New York Times published an op-ed by Goldrick-Rab and Katharine M. Broton, “Hungry, Homeless and in College.” The essay reported the new Hope Lab survey of 4,000 students at 10 community colleges -- more than half the students reported struggles with hunger and housing. (Click here to download the full report.)

A bit of hope yesterday, Wednesday morning. A group of friends gathered to consider a pilot lunch program for the poorest college students.

Some readers, I know, still won’t believe me. Listen to this testimony by a student working with the Hope Lab:

“My name is Brooke Evans. I am a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying philosophy. From 2010 to 2015, I was homeless and I did not know where my next meal was coming from.

“Without a home, without meals, I felt like a shameless impostor among my brilliant peers. I was shamefully worrying about food, and shamefully staring at the clock to make it out of class in time to get in line for the local shelter, when I should have been giving my undivided attention to the lecturer.”

Me? I am sticking with my proposal (click here) of one peanut butter sandwich per school day for each of the nine million students on a federal Pell Grant, the aid for low-income students in college. Why not, then, 45 million peanut butter sandwiches at colleges each week? Until we come up with a better idea.

I saw the sign-writing student the other day. She’s still in school.

Text message just now: “Be there in ten min. with bread, sandwiches and salads.”

Wick Sloane is an end user of a most highly selective higher education. Follow him on Twitter @WickSloane.

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Image Caption: 
Tuesday's food delivery outside Wick Sloane's Bunker Hill office

Article on Mimi Nichter, "Lighting Up: The Rise of Social Smoking on Campus"

Tobacco itself is no aphrodisiac, but one of the great tropes of classic American cinema might be called “the precoital cigarette” -- an emblem of desire smoldering on-screen when Humphrey Bogart gazes at Lauren Bacall, or when she exhales after accepting a light.

It was foreplay by proxy, or as much of it as Hollywood once allowed. And 70 years later, the scenes still work. All the gestures of asking for a smoke or offering one -- the moments of sharing a cigarette or plucking it from someone’s lips to make way for a kiss -- still communicate feelings of intimacy and languor, even for audiences that remember seeing the blackened lungs of smokers in health class and have never doubted the surgeon general’s warning.

The students whose behavior Mimi Nichter analyzes in Lighting Up: The Rise of Social Smoking on College Campuses (New York University Press) are in a similarly untenable position. They feel the allure while knowing better. “Young adults have the highest prevalence of smoking of all other age groups,” she notes, “with approximately 35 percent reporting that they currently smoke.”

At the same time, the undergraduates whose rituals and folk culture interest Nichter (a professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona) recognize the stigma attached to smoking. Bogie’s aura has faded. The smoker has become a pariah: unwelcome in restaurants and other public places, a menace to the health of others through secondhand smoke, at best the pitiful dupe of Joe Camel and other shills for Big Tobacco.

So how do they handle the cognitive dissonance? The short answer is that they make a distinction between enjoying a few cigarettes in social situations while in college and really being a smoker, i.e., someone addicted to nicotine for life. The contrast parallels that between social drinking and alcoholism. Social smoking is occasional rather than compulsive, something done in groups, never alone. No stigma need apply.

The comparison works at another level, since most of the social smoking discussed in Lighting Up takes place at parties where cigarettes go with alcohol “like cookies with milk,” to use one sorority girl’s expression.

As an anthropologist, rather than a psychologist, Nichter is ultimately less concerned with the rationalizations for smoking than the group situations and norms in which it is embedded. Besides conducting surveys and drawing on the work of other researchers, she has gathered detailed accounts of social smoking from native informants (freshmen and sophomores) and checked her ethnography by presenting draft chapters to her classes: “Students have told me that my descriptions of student life and smoking and drinking on campus are quite accurate.”

The picture that emerges is in some respects familiar to anyone who has ever been on a college campus in their late teens. Smoking, like drinking, is one of the behaviors perennially available for asserting the adult right to make decisions, which makes it appealing even for those who hadn’t been rebellious enough to try it in high school.

But Nichter’s inquiry also finds in effect now a common attitude towards social smoking as something to do while in college, but only then. It’s something you can and will quit once in “the real world.” Giving it up sooner would mean the loss of both a stress reliever and a set of routines useful for sociability. There are benefits to being able to introduce yourself via bumming a cigarette, to go outside for a smoke with friends at a party and to collect your thoughts before saying anything by pausing to light up.

Nichter’s respondents understood their smoking as “a habit that they engaged in when they chose to, at times when they and others seemed appropriate. ...Being really addicted, defined as ‘needing your cigarettes wherever you are,' was associated with those who were weak of will or had real problems. In contrast, many college students saw themselves as needing to smoke but only in a limited number of contexts.”

It’s not clear from Lighting Up’s otherwise very detailed account just when this cluster of attitudes and behaviors emerged. But occasional remarks by the author suggest that the antismoking public-service announcements of the past 20 years or so had a lot to do with it. Depicting smoking as addictive -- and reminding the public that tobacco companies have done research on how to make their products even more so -- seems to have had the paradoxical effect of encouraging young people to prove themselves able to light up while remaining in control.

But there are problems with such limit-setting efforts. One is that there is no definite threshold at which nicotine becomes addictive. The difference between smoking only at social events on weekends and low-level daily smoking (one or two cigarettes per day) begins to blur quite rapidly with students who begin unwinding on Thursday afternoons.

And while the undergraduate social-smoker ethos may be prepared to go cold turkey after the senior year, current trends make graduation less of a decisive transition point than it once was:

“Many grads today are stepping into an uncertain future, where the prospect of finding a good job in a timely manner is unlikely. Their 20s may be characterized by multiple moves (in and out of their parents’ and friends’ homes) and compounded by multiple stressors, not the least of which is finding oneself in a time of high unemployment and low wages. Moving into adulthood is now an elongated process, as markers of ‘settling down,’ like marriage, edge upward into one’s late 20s, if that. For those who have come to depend on the comfort of cigarettes during their college years, this array of life stressors may make cutting back or quitting more difficult, despite their intentions and understandings of the harms of tobacco.”

Smoking as a deliberate and controlled way to enjoy oneself is completely different from developing a nasty habit tinged with a death wish -- or it can be, for a while. The cigarette companies depend on people overestimating how much time they really have, and they're in no real danger of losing money on that score.

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