[Marxism] Tuition or Dinner? Nearly Half of College Students Surveyed in a New Report Are Going Hungry

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun May 5 11:18:45 MDT 2019

NY Times, May 5, 2019
Tuition or Dinner? Nearly Half of  College Students Surveyed in a New 
Report Are Going Hungry
By Kaya Laterman

In the coming weeks, thousands of college students will walk across a 
stage and proudly accept their diplomas. Many of them will be hungry.

A senior at Lehman College in the Bronx dreams of starting her day with 
breakfast. An undergraduate at New York University said he has been so 
delirious from hunger, he’s caught himself walking down the street not 
realizing where he’s going. A health sciences student at Stony Brook 
University on Long Island describes “poverty naps,” where she decides to 
go to sleep rather than deal with her hunger pangs.

These are all examples of food insecurity, the state of having limited 
or uncertain access to food. Stories about college hunger have been 
largely anecdotal, cemented by ramen and macaroni and cheese jokes. But 
recent data indicate the problem is more serious and widespread, 
affecting almost half of the student population at community and public 

A survey released this week by Temple University’s Hope Center for 
College, Community and Justice indicated that 45 percent of student 
respondents from over 100 institutions said they had been food insecure 
in the past 30 days. In New York, the nonprofit found that among City 
University of New York (CUNY) students, 48 percent had been food 
insecure in the past 30 days.

Kassandra Montes, a senior at Lehman College, is one of them. She 
unexpectedly had to take out a $5,000 loan this year in order to 
graduate, she said. Living in a Harlem homeless shelter as she attends 
classes, Ms. Montes also works two part-time jobs and budgets only $15 
per week for food. She uses the campus food pantry to get most of her 
groceries and usually skips breakfast in order to make sure that her 
4-year-old son is eating regularly.

“I feel like I’m slowly sinking as I’m trying to grow,” she said.

Although the college food-pantry movement is well underway, as there are 
now over 700 members at the College and University Food Bank Alliance, 
efforts have recently expanded to include redistributing leftover food 
from dining halls and catered events, making students eligible for food 
stamps and other benefits, and perhaps most important, changing national 
and state education funding to cover living expenses, not just tuition.

The movement has largely focused on community and state colleges, as 
there are more low-income students who attend them. Hunger can force 
students to drop out of school to work more, which inhibits academic 
success, said Nicholas Freudenberg, a distinguished professor at CUNY’s 
Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. Another ramification 
is an increase in student loans to cover living expenses, Dr. 
Goldrick-Rab said. (National student debt now totals about $1.5 trillion.)

Calvin Ramsay amassed “massive amounts of debt” while attending N.Y.U. 
Being the first person from his family to go to college, he said he 
didn’t fully understand how much debt he was going into with his student 
loans. After two years on campus, Mr. Ramsay said he moved back home to 
Queens and started to use Share Meals, a digital platform created in 
2013 that informs students about free food on campus.

“Food was a major obstacle,” he said, “especially in Manhattan.”

Mr. Ramsay said that he will need to borrow about $40,000 more to 
graduate, but he is unwilling to take on more debt to do so. “Why do I 
need to go into debt,” he said, “to eat?”

CUNY has discovered that signing up students for SNAP, or the 
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has helped. In 2009, the 
school system brought in Single Stop USA, a nonprofit that connects 
individuals with social services. Since then, the nonprofit and other 
partners have served over 122,000 CUNY students, each of whom have 
received about $3,000 worth of benefits each year, said Sarah Crawford, 
the nonprofit’s national education director.

Many states, including New York, have work requirements to get SNAP, but 
such a requirement should be waived if the recipient is a student, Ms. 
Crawford argued. In addition, many advocates say that SNAP benefits 
should be redeemable at dining halls and stores on campus.

Niasia Starling, a 22-year-old student at Nassau Community College, part 
of the State University of New York system, recently had her SNAP 
benefits terminated because she stopped working to take care of an ill 

Ms. Starling, who has been sleeping at a friend’s house because she has 
no home, said that she finds comfort at the NEST (Nassau Empowerment and 
Support for Tomorrow), the campus food pantry. Besides getting necessary 
supplies, she has found a support group there.

“I know I am not less than other people because I don’t have as much,” 
the upbeat Ms. Starling said. “But it’s hard to be hungry and motivated.”

Since it opened in November 2015, the NEST has buzzed with life. On a 
recent weekday morning, dozens of students grabbed multiple shopping 
bags of food, which also helps feed their families, said Sharon Masrour, 
one of the project’s organizers. The pantry is now a model for other 
SUNY and CUNY pantries and is part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Food 
Insecurity Task Force. It is also now a stop on freshman orientation tours.

“The role of a campus food pantry has gone beyond just providing food,” 
Ms. Masrour said. It’s a chance for the school to check in on a 
student’s life outside of campus because the tiers of issues, like 
health and housing, all contribute to food insecurity. “It’s now a 
basic-needs hub.”

It was at a pantry at SUNY Stony Brook where Jocelyn Chen, a volunteer 
there, spoke of her poverty naps. She said that many students are unable 
to visit the food pantry between classes, or to go off campus to find 
cheap food without a car.

“When you’re in class for, like, three hours, it’s hard to concentrate 
when you’re hungry,” she said. Back at the dorm, she explained, it’s 
easier to take “poverty naps” than to forage for something to eat.

Sharon Masrour helped to organize the NEST, a food pantry at Nassau 
Community College. It is now a stop on freshman orientation 
tours.CreditDesiree Rios for The New York Times
At Oregon’s George Fox University, for example, its dining hall 
operator, Bon Appétit Management Company now donates unused food to 
several campus “hospitality tables.”

Sodexo USA, one of the nation’s largest college dining hall operators, 
has produced a successful pilot program at Northern Arizona University, 
where students are alerted about leftovers from catered events. This is 
now an option to any of the colleges that use its services.

In New York, CUNY has focused on bringing fresh produce directly to 
students. In 2018, the urban farm at Kingsborough Community College 
produced 3,000 pounds of food that was handed out to over 1,000 
students. Eligible Brooklyn College students can now pick up a box of 
fresh veggies weekly.

Also, the city Department of Sanitation recently launched a food 
donation portal for nonprofits through its donateNYC program. In March, 
Guttman Community College in Manhattan became the first college to 
receive a food donation through the portal, a department spokeswoman said.

Although these initiatives seem disparate, there are some legislative 
efforts that could have a more stabilizing effect on student hunger.

The Debt-Free College Act, which aims to cover all costs associated with 
attending a public college, was reintroduced this year. Advocates are 
also hoping Congress expands the National School Lunch Program to higher 

Boosting federal education funding should be part of the presidential 
election discussion, said Dr. Goldrick-Rab, who cited a higher education 
plan put out by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a Democrat 
who is running for president.

If no progress is made, Dr. Goldrick-Rab said, “existing investments in 
financial aid will be undermined as students drop out simply because 
they don’t have enough to eat.”

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