Data shows food insecurity on campus

After receiving 930 responses from a food and housing security survey that was sent to Valparaiso University undergraduate and graduate students, it was determined that 20% of students are food insecure. 

The survey was sent in the fall of 2020 and anonymously collected data about each student’s current residential status and demographics: gender, race and ethnicity, number of dependents, employment status, first generation college student and major.

“The motivation I had for [the survey was] two years ago, I went to a conference and saw a talk by someone named Sara Goldrick-Rab, who’s been doing surveys across the United States on food and housing insecurities,” said Mindy Capaldi, associate professor of mathematics and statistics and the conductor of the survey. “I noticed that [Goldrick-Rab] had a gap for Indiana, they had no data from Indiana. They also didn’t have a lot of data from schools with less than 5,000 students, like Valpo, anywhere across the country and they had a limited number of non-profit private institutions.”

An analysis of the demographic data collected in relation to the data of individual responses, shows a connection between race and ethnicity and food insecurity. 

“Asian and Hispanic or Latinx students tend to have more food insecurity than expected, if all responses were proportional to population size, compared to white or Caucasian students and to a smaller degree Black or African American [students],” Capaldi said.

In comparison to the research done by Goldrick-Rab, it was found that most public four-year institutions have 40% to 50% of their students that are experiencing food insecurity. 

“I think that people would assume since we’ve been primarily residential, that students are living on campus, they’re probably fine. But we didn’t know if that was the case. We have a growing commuter population on campus that we don’t know what sort of situation those students are actually in,” Capaldi said.

Capaldi provided the Student Senate’s Food Access Committee with the results from the survey in the hopes of understanding how many students' food insecurity affects and finding the solution to this growing problem. The committee was established in spring 2020 and helps students with obtaining food by working with community resources. 

“[Ideas for solutions for the data are] all in talk and we’re still planning out things, focusing on food drives, food pantries and getting in contact with Hilltop [Food Pantry], which a lot of students connect with Hilltop so it’ll be easier for them to be connected with what they already know,” said Mikayla Flanagan, a freshman senator and member of the Food Access Committee, “Hopefully we’ll have something on campus that’s available to students who are on campus and also being in partnership with Hilltop [for students off campus], so we still have those two resources.”

Despite concerns that COVID-19 may have had a substantial impact on the data, research from the past decade shows that food insecurity has been a common issue among college students. The results from the survey are not only a reflection of living during the pandemic.

The committee is looking to promote the potential food pantry on campus by utilizing social media and the campus emailing system while still striving to keep the identity of students who need help anonymous.

“We’re trying to decide what’s the best way students can see [these resource opportunities], especially if they’re embarrassed to see something like that, then if they are embarrassed, it won’t be a public thing, so something that’s private, but still campus-wide,” Flanagan said.

Ultimately, Capaldi is looking to publish her findings in a journal related to public health to share with other institutions to keep them informed about the potential issue that’s occurring on their campuses. The Food Access Committee hopes to have potential solutions figured out by either spring break or the end of the semester.

“Just a reminder to all faculty, or students or staff on campus to be mindful of this and not be afraid to ask someone if they need help or to offer help. You can always do something small, and I would encourage people to brainstorm how they can do something small to help, if not something bigger,” Capaldi said.

Students experiencing food insecurity should get in contact with Hilltop Food Pantry at 219-577-4222, ext. 251. Hilltop is open Thursdays from 9-11:30 a.m. and located at 606 Union St. Valparaiso, IN. Other resources around campus include the following: The Christian Food Pantry at First United Methodist Church of Valparaiso, Immanuel Lutheran Church Food Pantry, St. Teresa of Avila and Cafe Manna.. Visit foodbanknwi.org to search for other local food banks.

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