Twenty-one per cent of NMC students who responded to the Learner Engagement Survey this spring said they were likely to use a food pantry if we had one. Ten per cent said that they often cannot afford to eat three meals a day. I was really surprised by that. But reading Paying the Price, by Sarah Goldrick-Rab, and being on the Food Pantry committee has got me thinking differently about food-insecurity among students.
I know how hard it is for me to ask for help. We always blame ourselves for our own troubles and expect others to do the same. It’s really hard to ask for help when you feel ashamed. One way we can combat the stigma of hunger is to talk about it openly, recognize it as an obstacle to learning, and meet it head on with all the resources at our disposal. If students know that not only are they not alone–one out of five is a pretty significant percentage of the student body–they might not feel as bad about seeking out solutions.
One way faculty at other colleges are doing this is by putting a paragraph into their syllabuses acknowledging that some of their students have unmet basic needs that can prevent them from learning, and offering to discreetly connect them to resources on campus. Below is a sample paragraph:
“Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live, and believes this may affect their performance in the course, is urged to contact the Dean of Students for support. Furthermore, please notify the professor if you are comfortable in doing so. This will enable her to provide any resources that she may possess.”
For a student to see a statement from her instructor clearly acknowledging the realities of her life and offering concrete ways of clearing the obstacles out of her path to learning has to be encouraging. We all want to be “normal.” And, sadly, food insecurity has become shockingly normal on community college campuses. A paragraph in a syllabus can quietly send the message: “You are not alone.”