As the spring semester comes to a close, most SLC students are busy writing long conference projects and squeezing in class assignments. But for many others, the end of the semester brings along another worry: not having enough meals swipes left. Food insecurity is an issue for a larger portion of the campus community than one might think, according to a recent survey of the student body.
“In the college environment, there is an assumption that you’re poor when you’re a college student and [...] a lot of people with food insecurity are not seen and their issues are often ignored because of that,” said Anica Mulzac, psychologist at the Health and Wellness Center.
The discussion of food insecurity was brought up by Mulzac three years ago. After observing that many students face this problem, she wanted to help address it. Mulzac teamed up with Natalie Gross, Director of Campus Diversity and Student Life, and Paige Crandall, Dean of Student Affairs, to collaborate on the issue. The three colleagues had already heard a plethora of anecdotal information on the subject, but there hadn’t been a formal collection of data yet. In order to craft the best solution, they decided to create a survey to collect data from the undergraduate and graduate student body.
“We really wanted to know in light of that data what should we really be providing because if we just rush in with a solution and not know what it looks like on our campus, [it wouldn’t be as effective],” Mulzac explained.
The survey’s overall response rate was much higher than they anticipated. By the first day, they received about 400 responses. The final number of responses totalled at 518, which was more than double in comparison to other school-wide surveys. Even though there was the potential to win $50 after completion, they attributed the success of the survey to food insecurity being a huge and relevant problem on campus, Crandall said.
Not only were Crandall, Gross and Mulzac blown away by the amount of responses, but they were also surprised by the extreme results. In the survey, 58.49 percent said yes to the question, “Have you ever ran out of meal swipes or meal money before the end of a semester?” and 5.71 percent said yes to, “Have you ever gone hungry because you were out of meal swipes or meal money?” In addition, 54.44 percent said yes to the question, “Have you ever received a meal swipe from someone else because you didn’t have any left?” and 71.82 percent said yes to “Have you ever given a meal swipe to someone else because they did not have any left?” These high percentages confirmed the belief that food insecurity is a serious issue on campus.
Gross added that in the comments section of the survey, “There are a couple people who said ‘I worked extra hours to make more money to eat or I skipped meals, so I would eat protein bars or whatever and then eat a full meal later.’” She said this anecdotal evidence showed that, “People were navigating and negotiating [meals] and kind of doing without. I think that three meals a day is pretty basic and if you get a snack or two that’s like a bonus, but to know that people are navigating and not having three full meals is a really big deal.”
The survey showed that the majority of students experiencing food insecurity turn to their friends and family for help or use the student generated groups Swipe Exchange and Swipe U. While the creators of the survey aren’t opposed to the idea of meal swipe exchanges, they can’t endorse it because it would go against the school’s contract with AVI. The unused meal swipes go back to AVI for food facility renovations at SLC and company revenue, Crandall said.
After analyzing all of the feedback from their survey, Crandall, Gross and Mulzac created a plan to tackle the issue of food insecurity. Their first step is to have more discussions this semester with students to understand all sides of issue even further. Next, they will implement Ted Talk-style information sessions about meal plans during orientation to cover the basics of how they work and the best ways to track them. They will also provide meal plan management help and potentially provide temporary swipes or meal money. For example, Mulzac explained that if students reach out to specific offices on campus and claim that they are experiencing food insecurity, they would be given a card with a few meal swipes to help sustain them.
While the steps in this plan take immediate action, they also have created a long term plan to incorporate a potential pantry on campus. In their survey, 82.43 percent said yes to “Would you utilize a food pantry if there was one available?” Their goal is to be able to have dry and refrigerated foods in a grocery store-style setting, which would be “open to anyone who came and said that they wanted something or needed something, so whether it’s students, faculty, or staff,” Gross said.
Crandall, Gross and Mulzac also plan to meet with colleges facing similar situations. Out of the 467 member institutions registered with the College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA), they found six schools on the list that match the size and liberal arts population of SLC. They hope to learn how they’ve made food pantries work on their campuses and what other strategies they have used to tackle this issue.
Currently, food insecurity will be resolved on a case-by-case basis, until further definite plans are made and accompanied by funding. “We want students to let us know if they are struggling and if they are in need, whether it’s a temporary need or a rest of the semester need, so that we can best figure out how to strategize and help,” Gross said. If students are in need of help, they should contact Crandall, Gross or Mulzac and if students want to get involved with the discussion of food insecurity, they can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Alexa Di Luca ('19)