Opinion: AU fights campus food insecurity through socialist models
Amid increasing tuition rates, The Market pantry and Eagles Helping Eagles initiative assist AU students in food security
This article is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff.
Food insecurity awareness on college campuses is growing and the coronavirus pandemic helped bring new attention to this old issue. From government officials to academic administrators, people in power highlight this issue. However, it’s not enough to rely on them solely for solutions.
Food insecurity at college is increasing as college tuition continues to rise. Campus dining is not included in most financial aid, so anti-hunger advocates are taking matters into their own hands to meet students where they are located. The Market, American University’s food pantry, and national non-profit Swipe Out Hunger demonstrate that fighting food insecurity is presently most successful through a socialist model of meeting everyone’s basic needs. Students come from various economic backgrounds and situations. Instead of holding the same expectation for all individuals to meet their needs, a socialist model centralizes resources to fill in the gaps when individuals are limited and face challenges. It prioritizes community thriving over individuals.
The coronavirus pandemic brought visibility to college student food insecurity due to the increased need for social services across America. Only then did students become temporarily eligible for expanded SNAP benefits and U.S. senators have since introduced the Student Food Security Act of 2021 to make this eligibility permanent.
College students needed these benefits long before the pandemic. Over the last decade, rates of food insecurity among college students have ranged from 20-50 percent, considerably higher than the national 12 percent rate.
Swipe Out Hunger, a nonprofit that partners with colleges to combat food insecurity, has been in this work since 2010. The organization works by enabling students to transfer their extra meal swipes to other students who need them.
“There are government-backed free and reduced lunches for K-12 and then it ends,” said Maddie Alpert-McCarthy, the former partnerships coordinator at Swipe Out Hunger. “The real cost of college, including housing and food, is in large part not covered by financial aid.”
Another issue is the decrease in public funding for higher education resulting in privatization and tuition increases. This is reflected in the 3.5 percent increase in AU’s meal plan for the 2022 fiscal year.
Associate Director of Campus Engagement and The Market leader, Calvin Haney, is working to fight food insecurity at AU. The pantry, located in Mary Graydon Center in Room 308, aims to “meet students where they are,” Haney said. “We want them to not have to feel stigmatized.”
Students need to give their full name and AU ID number to access the pantry. When I visited the pantry, I saw items ranging from frozen meals and meat alternatives to toilet paper and menstrual products. Students can come by and take what they need when they need it.
The Market receives food donations from Capital Area Food Bank and financial contributions from alumni, families and community members. Haney also recognizes The Market as a system with a socialist model where community care is prioritized. He said he wants it to flourish this year and be more than a band-aid for food insecurity. Haney emphasizes the need for student input and involvement to aid this mission.
AU’s Office of Campus Life has recently launched the Eagles Helping Eagles initiative. Like Swipe Out Hunger, this program allows students to donate extra meal swipes to their peers in need at the end of the semester. Students who don't use all their meal swipes can keep their eye out for dates to donate at the end of the spring semester. Students seeking meal swipes can request either 15 or 30 and receive them within two business days.
Swipe Out Hunger, AU’s food pantry and AU’s Eagles Helping Eagles emulate socialism and mutual aid models, where meeting everyone’s basic needs is a collective responsibility and standard. Higher education institutions leave students and families of varying economic backgrounds to fend for themselves regarding housing and food. Under this systemically capitalist model, students and families with fewer means experience more stress and strain, perpetuating inequality.
A socialist structural change, such as expanding SNAP benefits to college students, is desperately needed to combat food insecurity for college students. In the meantime, reliance on everyday people-power over structures and systems is what will sustain nourished and more equitable higher ed communities.
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Jeni Hollander is a second-year Political Communication Master’s student in the School of Public Affairs.