February 26, 2019 - Author: Kelly Millenbah
The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources launched its Snacks for Success initiative in December 2018 by distributing 500 care packages with healthy snacks to students during exam week. Through Snacks for Success, we want to draw attention to food security that’s so pervasive on university campuses, including our own.
The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, a college that’s responsible for food, is well positioned to help. We want to do more to ensure that student needs -- whole-person needs, including hunger -- are met.
I started thinking more about student hunger and its connection with student success in November 2016. I was participating in a national conference session, “Hunger on Campus: Addressing Increasing Food Insecurity for Today’s College Student.” Though food security on university campuses was not new to me, I was horrified to learn that, for every 10 campuses, approximately 20 percent of enrolled students experience very low food security.
During that same time, Michigan State University was deeply engaged in actions to enhance student success and close the opportunity gaps that exist between first-generation students, students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and those from underrepresented groups. But how can we talk about these kinds of metrics-driven issues without talking about whole-student success? How can we expect students to perform well academically when they may not have eaten for days?
We all know the sensation of feeling irritable and unfocused when we have not eaten for a few hours. Can you imagine the burden on students who are carrying 15 credits, taking exams and working on papers when they have not eaten for days?
Hunger affects all areas of students’ lives and can present a real obstacle to student success. If we care for the whole student, then whole-person success will follow.
Simultaneously, the college that focuses on food ought to be taking a more prominent role in supporting food security and hungry students on our own campus.
MSU has been a leader in the nation, offering one of the first college campus food banks to provide food to students and fighting the stigmas associated with it, but we need to do more. The CANR Snacks for Success care packages in December were the first step in what we hope will be a much larger initiative to draw attention to and help with food security on university campuses.
Our CANR academic advisors are often the first people on campus who know about the struggles and challenges that students face on a daily basis. We need to empower those individuals with the resources to effect change immediately when they encounter a student facing hunger, and that effort must go beyond making the student aware that the food bank exists.
We also need to make our faculty and staff members more acutely aware of the non-academic challenges our students face, including hunger, housing costs and college debt. We need to be champions in recognizing the effects that lack of food and other basic needs have on students and the steps we can take to support students.
My hope is that we will expand Snacks for Success to include more active involvement of our CANR departments during finals week and throughout the year. We also need to build, publicize and de-stigmatize a full complement of resources (e.g., financial, content and support services) to address food insecurity on our campus.
Faculty and staff have the privilege of building our careers at places like Michigan State University because students choose to study here. It’s on us to give back to our students in meaningful ways that will provide them with the greatest chance of success. They are our future leaders.