Food Insecurity Graphic

A 2018 study published by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab found high levels of food and housing insecurity among American university and college students.

Over 40,000 students at institutions across the United States responded to the survey, according to the study.

In the month preceding the survey, 36 percent of university students were found to be food insecure, and this same percentage was found for housing insecurity among students, according to the study. Additionally, 9 percent of university students had experienced homelessness within the last year of the survey.

These three figures all increased when discussing students at community colleges, according to the study.

Only 41 percent of community college students and 48 percent of university students had not experienced at least one of these issues in the year preceding the survey, according to the study.

Haleigh Larkin is graduating in May with her master’s degree in sociology at Texas Tech University and explained how the Lubbock area compares to other places.

“Specifically, within Lubbock County and the South Plains area, Lubbock has 15 percent of its actual population of being food insecure, 2 percent higher than the national average” Larkin said.

Larkin said not all populations are affected equally by food and housing insecurity, and students often suffer from food and housing insecurity at higher rates.

“I found that students, students suffering from food insecurity are more likely to be of minority background, to be have suffered from food insecurity as children, and are more likely to have been, like, essentially first-gen,” Larkin said.

University students experiencing food and housing insecurity often do not use governmental or university assistance programs, according to the study.

Larkin said shame and stigmatization often surrounding food assistance programs could be an explanation for students not utilizing these programs.

“The effects of stigma and shame are huge,” Larkin said, “like, it leads to depression, it leads to feelings of isolation, it leads to anxiety.”

Other research has linked negative academic performance to food and housing insecurity, according to the study.

“If you’re not eating, you can’t focus, you can’t thrive, you can’t succeed,” Larkin said.

A recent study by Wilna Oldewage-Theron of Tech and Brenda Abu of the Rochester Institute of Technology surveyed college students in Lubbock.

60 percent of respondents to the survey experienced some degree of food insecurity, according to the Lubbock study. This figure is five times higher than the household average in America.

Students with a food budget of less than $200 a month were more than three times as likely to be food insecure, according to the Lubbock study.

Larkin said statistics showing a high prevalence of food and housing insecurity are often explained away.

“It’s also this social paradox of the poor college kid,” Larkin said. “You’re supposed to struggle, you’re supposed to eat ramen. But what happens whenever these kids are actually struggling with actual housing and actual food insecurity?”

Ileana Hinojosa is an administrator at the Center for Campus Life and oversees the daily operations of the Raider Red’s Food Pantry; she said the food pantry may serve many students.

“In the semester that we had a grand opening, which was fall 2018, we had 680 students visit the pantry,” Hinojosa said.

 Hinojosa said last semester around 850 students visited the pantry. While growth has occurred, she said the university is looking to advertise more effectively the existence of the pantry.

The food pantry was started as a result of students in need of food regularly showing up to the Office of the Dean of Students, Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa said basic needs such as stable access to food and housing are necessities to being a successful person.

“Knowing that our students are not able to meet that basic necessity, it’s concerning,” Hinojosa said. “And I mean it’s important so that if you don’t have those things then you can’t be as academically successful as you want to be.”

The food pantry exists as a measure to help students in these strenuous instances, Hinojosa said.

She said the food pantry also assists students in finding additional resources.

“We can help connect them with resources within the Lubbock community,” Hinojosa said. “So, in the pantry we have a list of locations that offer free meals.”

Elizabeth Massengale, managing director for parent and family relations and assistant dean of students, said while the food pantry is a short-term solution, Tech can help students experiencing food insecurity get connected with community partners that can offer assistance on a more regular basis.

“I think coming to the Office of the Dean of Students, asking for help, either call us, fill out the request form, so we can help get them directed to the right place,” Massengale said.

From loans and grant money to scholarships and community assistance services, Massengale said the office can help students find and access resources.

 “It’s just a matter of reaching out for help and letting us get them connected to the right resource that can help them,” she said.

Massengale said Tech builds relationships with community agencies and can help identify where to send a student to take care of his or her needs.

 “If you’ve not, you know, worked with a community agency in that way, it can kind of be overwhelming,” Massengale said. “But they’re there to help.”

Massengale said reaching out to the university for help is often the largest barrier, but the resources and assistance are there.

“In my mind and with talking with students, most of the time they say, ‘I just didn’t want to ask for help,’ or ‘I was kind of embarrassed about this,’” Massengale said.

Massengale said the university has hundreds of resources that exist to help students with anything from housing and food to financial aid and transportation.

“It’s just a matter of, I think students recognizing that the university does want to help them, they just have to ask for help,” Massengale said.           

While it is still being updated and finalized, Tech recently started a website with the goal of streamlining the many services available to students, Massengale said.

For more information on these services, students can visit Raider Relief, which can be found on the Office of the Dean of Students website.

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