January 22, 2018 | Student Affairs

by Emily Tai Protester with sign reading Feed America, Feed Hope.

Among the several student-friendly proposals unveiled by Governor Cuomo in his 2018 state-of-the-state speech was the “No Student Goes Hungry,” program, a five-point plan to address food insecurity among public school students in New York State. While four of the provisions are specifically aimed at fighting hunger among K-12 students, the fifth point addressed food insecurity among students in New York’s public colleges, requiring both CUNY and SUNY Schools to provide either a food pantry on campus, or an alternative, shame-free form of food distribution.

Governor Cuomo’s measures came in response to a new survey, Hunger on Campus, released by the National Student Campaign against Hunger and Homelessness, as well as critical research, led, for over a decade, by Temple University professor Sarah Goldrik-Rab, founder of the Wisconsin Hope Lab, a center dedicated to research on food insecurity among American college students. Research by these, as well as other organizations, have found that:

  • At least 1 of every ten Americans who seeks relief for food insecurity through a food pantry is a college student;
  • 48% of college students experience food insecurity at least once a month;
  • 55% of students who struggle with food insecurity forego textbook purchase—a statistic with troubling implications for academic success.

Ahead of the Curve
While food insecurity among college students may be news to some, it’s common knowledge on many CUNY campuses, where faculty in various specialties of the Social Sciences and Nutrition fields have pursued cutting-edge research on food insecurity on U.S Campuses. Last week, researchers Nicholas Freudenberg, of the CUNY School of Public Health and Health Policy; Jan Poppendieck, of the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute; and Gherell Owens of Food Bank of New York, hosted a summit at CUNY’s School for Public Health that brought together faculty and administrative staff involved in running—or launching—food pantries across CUNY. (As of this writing, there are food pantries at City College, Brooklyn College, Lehman College, John Jay College of Criminal Justice; the College of Staten Island; Kingsborough Community College, Guttman Community College, LaGuardia Community College, Bronx Community College, Queensborough Community College, and Hostos Community College. A food pantry will also open at the Borough of Manhattan Community College this spring.)

The meeting, a follow-up to the “Real College” conference convened at the School of Public Health last November, included a discussion of such resources as Feeding America; #GiveHealthy; and Food Bank of New York’s Tiered Engagement Network—all website resources designed to assist in identifying needy students, promoting proper nutrition, and keeping pantries adequately stocked.  Graduate students at the CUNY Food Security Advocates Project also described their work in training undergraduate students to help raise peer awareness of food insecurity, and supports available on CUNY campuses.

Challenges Ahead
While all these initiatives take important steps forward, a few challenges remain. Governor Cuomo has allocated a million dollars to launch New York’s anti-hunger campaign—but experts at the summit predicted that more might well be needed, as the cost of meeting New York’s food insecurity needs could be estimated at closer to $55 million dollars annually. Several of the organizations that provide non-perishable and farm surplus foods to food pantries throughout the United States, such as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), moreover require that all food pantries they assist be open to the public—a specification that can be difficult to reconcile with college campus security regulations.

Could it be argued, however, that college food pantries deserve assistance on the grounds that their operation offers special support to a high-needs population that might otherwise seek food assistance elsewhere? That every student served by a food pantry might well be bringing items back to family members, thus making a CUNY Food Pantry into a community resource in fact, if not in title?

Governor Cuomo’s “No Student Goes Hungry Program” has contributed critically to a nation-wide conversation about food insecurity. The challenge ahead, as Nicholas Freudenberg put it, will be to leverage the talents of CUNY faculty—as researchers, and as teachers—“to reach people in need”—and, perhaps, provide a model for other public universities—across New York State, and the U.S.

Emily S. Tai is an associate professor of History at Queensborough Community College.

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Photo: Magdalena Parker, WEBN 2009, (CC BY-ND 2.0)