By Christopher Partridge
Coordinator, Student Engagement
ASUN Center for Student Engagement
Pack Provisions, a food pantry program operated by the ASUN Center for Student Engagement, has sought for years to combat food insecurity on campus. This has primarily been achieved by offering food but more recently has expanded to include school supplies and hygiene items. A stigma exists, however, around receiving assistance; what Karabenick (2003) refers to as “help-seeking threat.” Since students must self-identify and request assistance from Pack Provisions, help-seeking threat can be detrimental to our program’s goals.
In Student Affairs and in the Center for Student Engagement especially, we frequently discuss the importance of student civic engagement. Students seem to primarily equate civic engagement with giving, rather than receiving. This might have to do with how educators frame the concept. Can the act of receiving public assistance when one needs it also be a form of civic engagement? If we teach students that civic engagement can be reciprocal—both giving to and receiving from our communities—it may encourage more students to take advantage of resources that benefit their well-being and academic success.
The Center for Student Engagement and the Office of Student Persistence Research conducted a civic engagement survey in the spring of 2016. It included the Six-Item Short Form of the USDA Food Security Survey Module, a widely-used instrument for assessing levels of food insecurity in communities. The survey received 4,243 responses, providing for the first time a University of Nevada, Reno inventory of food insecurity. The data revealed that 21% of University of Nevada students experienced food insecurity sometimes or often over the past 6 months (Partridge et al., 2017).
Unlike other assessments of food insecurity, our study also examined students’ attitudes and behaviors around civic engagement. Amid the aforementioned food insecurity rate, the study revealed low willingness to use a food pantry, juxtaposed with high civic engagement. Although roughly half of the campus population was engaged in volunteering and/or donating to causes (53% in volunteering and 47% donating), only 14% of students indicated they were willing to accept assistance from a food pantry. At other institutions, Dubick et al. (2016) found that while 48% of students reported experiencing food insecurity, only 17% reported using on-campus food pantries or food banks.
We must change the culture around campus food insecurity and encourage students to accept assistance. In doing so, further research will be valuable. Some possible research questions include:
- Do students receiving assistance from Pack Provisions consider themselves civically engaged?
- Is there a relationship between students volunteering/giving and their likelihood to request assistance from Pack Provisions?
- What sources of institutional data may be used to proactively identify and reach out to students who may benefit from Pack Provisions?
- Of students who are not willing to accept assistance from a food pantry, what are their reasons – lack of perceived need, stigma, or others?
What interventions should we pursue to have a positive impact on helping-seeking behaviors? We’d like to hear from you!
As a final note, we want you to know about a couple upcoming outreach initiatives by Pack Provisions on Tuesday, 4/11/17:
- 10am-2pm in the Knowledge Center: for the first time we will be tabling with a representative from the Food Bank of Northern Nevada to inform students & faculty about, and even help them apply for, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps).
- 6pm-8pm in the Joe Crowley Student Union Theater: we are hosting a showing of the documentary A Place at the Table, which focuses on food insecurity in the U.S., followed by an expert panel discussion featuring:
Jamie Benedict, Associate Professor of Nutrition, University of Nevada – Reno
Michael Wright, Clinical Associate Professor of Social Work & BSW Program Coordinator, University of Nevada – Reno
Jenny Yeager, Director of Programs and Community Engagement, Food Bank of Northern Nevada
Salena Carr, BSW Candidate & Member of FUSED, University of Nevada – Reno
References Dubick, J., Mathews, B., Cady, C. (2016) "Hunger on campus: The challenge of food insecurity for college students." Report by College and University Food Bank Alliance, National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, Student Government Resource Center, Student Public Interest Research Groups. Accessed at www.cufba.org/report-hunger-on-campus/. Karabenick, S. A. (2003). Seeking help in large college classes: A person-centered approach. Contemporary educational psychology, 28(1), 37-58. Office of Student Persistence Research & Center for Student Engagement (2016). Wolf Pack Community Needs Assessment: A civic engagement survey. University of Nevada, Reno. [Preliminary report of undergraduate and graduate student survey responses.] Partridge, C., Koeckes, A., Lowman, J., & Rodriguez, S. (March 2017). "Starving College Student" is not a joke: Changing the culture to address food insecurity on campus. Presented at the annual conference of NASPA, San Antonio, TX. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service (2016). Household food security in the United States in 2015. Economic Research Report No. (ERR-215), September 2016. Accessed at www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details/?pubid=79760.