EDITORIAL: A silent growl
When November arrives, many Americans get excited for the holiday season and the delicious, hot, home-cooked meals that come with it. College students drool over the sheer thought of going home for Thanksgiving break to indulge in the feast or to simply raid our parents’ cabinets and fridges.
But some students are not able to return home and others don’t share the luxury or privilege of having the resources to have a sufficient meal. They have to continue thinking about what their next meal is going to be, and how they are going to afford it.
Students across the country have experienced food insecurity.
According to the 2020 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, more than one in five undergraduates experienced food insecurity.
In an updated 2023 analysis of the study published by Sara Goldrick-Rab, an independent consultant and founder of The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University, 23% of undergraduate students and 12% of graduate students across the nation reported experiencing food insecurity.
Central Michigan University is no different. In fact, our campus has seen numbers higher than the national average when it comes to students facing the issue.
Erica Johnson is the interim vice president of student affairs and director of the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center. She said when CMU first introduced its food pantry to address food insecurity on campus in the Fall of 2018, they took a post-graduation survey in 2017 to determine students’ experiences.
According to that survey, 40% of the graduated students said they faced food insecurity during their time at CMU. Assuming they were undergrads, this means they were 20 percentage points above the national average ... for graduate students that would be 28 percentage points.
In 2021, Johnson said the university prompted a multi-institutional leadership study asking about hunger and the physiological effects of food insecurity. Twenty one percent of students reported they experienced hunger on campus, without having the funds for food.
“We know that food insecurity creates challenges and barriers to being successful at CMU,” Johnson said. “That’s why the student Food Pantry exists ... to help provide (and) to alleviate some of those challenges.”
When it comes to the student experience at CMU, many have voiced their struggles with financial hardship, lack of accessible dining hall hours, dietary needs not being met and the challenges that follow food insecurity.
As students at Central Michigan Life, we see your struggles, we hear your voice — we do. The university would also say, ‘we do.’ And they do with the numerous resources they provide on campus … but do they?
Do the people making decisions for food availability on campus understand what it is like to have classes back-to-back with no food in your belly? And still only have time for a pack of ramen to fuel the rest of a student’s daily routine? Or having nothing at all?
How about attending a university in a different continent from your hometown and not having any resources to make that one meal from home that brings you comfort?
What about students coming from low-income households that don’t have the money to afford the required meal plan, but are forced to do so anyway, to receive an education?
These scenarios are only a few out of many. Food insecurity can look different for whomever is experiencing it. But what is generally universal is how one’s body functions without a substantial meal.
In Lauren Pocica’s article for CM Life on food deserts, the United States Department of Agriculture said food insecurity affects how you focus and function in everyday life.
“Poor nutrition and diet-related diseases have far-reaching impacts, including decreased academic achievement and increased financial stress,” the USDA said. “That translates to societal impacts as well … lower productivity, weakened military readiness, widening health disparities and skyrocketing health care costs.”
Most of the nutrients provided by the university in the dining halls or markets consists of the same food — pasta, pizza, burgers, sometimes frozen or wilted salad options, overpriced sushi and sandwiches (if they are still there after a long day of classes), ramen and frozen meals.
It is not like we are asking to dine like kings. However, when students are continually asked to do more on campus, it would be useful and appreciated to have the nutrients we need to do so.
Without it, students feel like garbage. It impacts the way we view our own fluctuating bodies, from the excessive intake of junk or the complete lack of food in general, damaging one’s mental health even further. Taking this into consideration, eating has become an afterthought for some students.
We are pushed to take 15 credits per semester, exert energy into student organizations and campus events, while still making time for study hours and our social lives. Where is the time or incentive to eat on-campus, when the food available has the power to slow us down?
And for students off-campus, where is the time or motivation to cook a meal when the day is mostly spent on-campus dedicated to classes, conferences, RSO meetings, study hours and events?
How important is nutrition to academic success? Well, CMU has listened to students in the past when it came to complaints about food in the dining halls.
However, the institution introduced Merrill’s virtual dining hall, envisioning easier accessibility for students. Thank you for the efforts and for increasing job opportunities on campus, now why not up the ante on fresh, healthful options on fruits and vegetables beyond the dinner rush? How about having fruits or vegetables and allowing students to have access to these options past 6 p.m.?
A more successful project the university has had would be the food pantry. Recently, the food pantry extended its availability to five days a week after hiring more staff:
- Monday: noon to 2 p.m.
- Tuesday: 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
- Wednesday: 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
- Thursday: 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
- Friday: noon to 3 p.m.
If students are unable to make any of the times, they are encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out a form on Engage Central to coordinate with one of the staff members for when they could come by after-hours for assistance.
Aside from the food pantry, some hidden gems many students have potentially failed to notice on campus are resources such as the Student Emergency Fund. According to CMU’s website, this fund is available for domestic and international students, if they adhere to the requirements.
The emergency funds are meant to provide financial assistance for those experiencing food insecurity or other emergencies. It explicitly also states that international students can use this fund only once at CMU, whereas it is unclear for domestic students.
However, there is also the Finish Up Chips fund for students that are within 25 credits of graduating and need financial support. But if that does not fit a students’ qualifications, they may also submit a CARES report on their own behalf to connect with financial aid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program on campus.
If any students are in need of food immediately, aside from the food pantry, they may also visit the Volunteer Center or One Central in the Bovee University Center to receive a food package. There are options available for those that are vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free.
In addition to CMU’s programs, Mount Pleasant also has many thanks to give to the Isabella Community Soup Kitchen. According to the nonprofits website, it provides free meals to anyone in need and has no qualifications or guidelines to join.
CMU offers more than some students may have realized; however, this can also be as a result of not enough promotion so students can be aware and take advantage of them. We see you CMU, but we haven’t heard enough from you.
In Ally Meske’s article for CM Life on the university‘s food pantry, Symantha Dattilo, the assistant director of the volunteer center, said the pantry serves 250 to 300 students per week. However, there are students out there not using it like they could be.
“We see it as a tool of student success,” Dattilo said. “College is really, really hard and knowing where your next meal is going to come from should not be the thing that makes it harder,” Dattilo said.
At CMU, we do the best we can as students, faculty and staff. But we can all do better to acknowledge one another’s efforts and take a step further to meet each other in the middle. At CM Life, everyone on campus is given a platform to speak as loud as their voices allow. And as students ourselves, ‘we do’ too.