How can colleges remedy food and housing challenges?
Co-authored by J. Luke Wood, Associate Professor, San Diego State University, Marissa Vasquez Urias, Assistant Professor, San Diego State University, and Frank Harris III, Professor, San Diego State University
As we become fully engulfed in the holiday season, it is important to remember those in our communities that may experience greater challenges in meeting the fundamental needs of food and housing. While there is often a greater (and much needed) focus on those who experience homelessness during this time of year, there is also a need to acknowledge the wider range of challenges that adversely affect communities of color, called food and housing insecurities. As described in a Wisconsin Hope Lab report by Sara Goldrick-Rab and her colleagues, food insecurities include having limited food, being uncertain about where your next meal will come from, or being forced to eat nutritionally deficient foods due to cost. Housing insecurities refer to homelessness as well as challenges in maintaining a fixed placed of residence.
Across the nation, colleges and universities are becoming more attuned to challenges that many students face in having a stable source of food and steady housing. Indeed, concerns about food and housing insecurities have led many campuses to establish food pantries, offer free and reduced lunch programs, and connect students to affordable housing options. However, rarely included in conversations on food and housing insecurities is an acknowledgement that Black students, particularly Black men are adversely impacted by these experiences. In fact, our research in California indicates that while 32% of community college men report challenges with housing insecurities, over 48% of Black men face these challenges. Similarly, while 15% of college men experience food insecurities, 23% of Black men do. Overall, our data demonstrate that Black men have the highest exposure to both food and housing insecurities across all racial ethnic and gender groups.
However, only recently has research begun to explore these challenges among men of color. In a recent paper presented at the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), Melissa Vang and colleagues (2016) explored the stories of students who experienced food and housing insecurities in the community college. Their research titled, Where do I sleep? What do I eat: A concern for men of color in community college revealed that experiences with food and housing insecurities were recurrent themes in the lives of many Black and Latino college men. In particular, they found that men with these challenges often placed their families first, prioritizing feeding and sheltering their children and dependents over themselves. In some cases, their roles as providers for their families exacerbated their exposure to insecurities.
Informed by prior research, our work in this area, and the work of Jarret T. Gupton on students experiencing homelessness, we recently facilitated a session on promising practices for serving students with food and housing insecurities at the Community College League of California. Derived from these conversations and research, we offer strategies for supporting the success of students experiencing food and housing instabilities. College leaders can reduce challenges associated with insecurities by creating awareness of the prevalence of insecurities, reducing school costs, and engaging in direct interventions.
There are many strategies that colleges can implement to reduce insecurities, however, they cannot address what they do not know. There is a need to understand the prevalence of insecurities and to know which communities are more likely to be exposed to these challenges. Leaders must collect data on campus to better understand who is experiencing food and housing insecurities and the influence of these challenges on academic performance. Further, this information must be disaggregated to capture differences across racial and gender groups. More importantly, this data must be made available to the board of trustees, leadership cabinet, and all educators who work and interact with students. In an optimal circumstance, students would be provided with opportunities to help create awareness by sharing their experiences. Raising awareness is important since many educators, particularly faculty, do not live in the communities in which they teach and thus may not realize the barriers students are facing.
College leaders must also work to reduce the high costs of attending college. Tuition and fees are skyrocketing across the nation despite the proliferation of initiatives to reduce the cost of postsecondary education. Reducing costs allows students to redirect the monies that they have toward food and housing. Strategies for reducing costs include employing open education resources (e.g., textbooks, videos, software) that are free and readily accessible for learning; contracting with shuttle services and transportation agencies to reduce the cost of commuting to and from campus; and making vouchers available for campus eateries and bookstores.
Beyond raising awareness and reducing costs, there is also a need for direct interventions to support students experiencing insecurities. Colleges can establish campus food pantries with second hand clothing; have readily accessible baskets full of snacks (e.g., raisins, apples) located in student services and convenient locations across campus. Some colleges are even using technology to fight hunger by creating mobile applications that notify students when campus events take place that have free food or have leftover food available for pick up. However, the college cannot go it alone. Colleges must partner with community organizations (e.g., faith-based, business, county/city, non-profit) that provide resources to individuals experiencing challenges meeting basic needs. Colleges can even provide space on campus for these organizations to better streamline aid and directly connect students to available resources and services.
Taken together, these strategies can help to reduce challenges facing students who simply want to eat and to know where they will sleep at night.
Goldrick-Rab, S., Broton, K., & Eisenberg, D. (2015). Hungry to learn: Addressing food and housing insecurity among undergraduates. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Hope Lab.
Gupton, J. T. (2015). Engaging homeless students in college. Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations, 221-236.
Vang, M., Garcia, F., Falcon, V., Mazyck, J., Vasquez Urias., & Harris III, F. (2016). Where do I sleep? What do I eat? A concern for men of color in community college. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, Columbus OH.