Emporia State University has convened a new university-wide coalition in an effort to address students’ basic needs.
The Basic Needs Coalition (BNC) was commissioned by President Allison Garrett in response to findings from a recent survey as well as work done by students, faculty, and partners of the EAT Initiative, a collaborative and interdisciplinary effort launched in fall 2019 to address hunger at ESU and in the greater Emporia community.
“The best way to change a culture is to involve many people from across the community,” said Garrett. “The ESU Basic Needs Coalition draws from areas across campus and from all levels — students, faculty and staff — as well as the overall Emporia community to work toward solutions for food insecurity, housing insecurity and homelessness.”
ESU participated in the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University’s #RealCollege survey for the first time last fall. The survey represents the largest annual basic needs assessment among college students in the United States. The results, consistent with what is found across other U.S. colleges and universities, indicated that basic needs insecurities are indeed prevalent among ESU students, with 41 percent of students experiencing food insecurity in the 30 days prior to the survey, 42 percent experiencing housing insecurity in the prior year, and 15 percent reporting experiencing conditions consistent with homelessness. These issues are likely only heightened under the current COVID-19 pandemic.
ESU’s campus food pantry, Corky’s Cupboard, was founded in 2014 in response to concerns at the time about students experiencing food insecurity, becoming one of the earliest campus food pantries in Kansas. However, the Hope Center survey indicated that not all students in need may necessarily be using such support services. Of the ESU students experiencing basic needs insecurity, only 28% reported utilizing on-campus resources.
“Based on the numbers we learned from the #RealCollege survey, we know we need to reach more students and let them know they can utilize Corky’s Cupboard in addition to other resources available on campus and in the community,” said Blythe Eddy, director of student activities and community service who oversees the operations of Corky’s Cupboard. “We need to do more to understand and remove barriers to students seeking help when they need it.”
Given the continued prevalence of these issues, the EAT Initiative — standing for Emporia At the Table: Ending Hunger in Our Community — launched last year in an effort to further combat food insecurity on campus and in the greater Emporia community through education, research, and action. Coinciding with these efforts, President Garrett committed to Presidents United to Solve Hunger in October 2019 by signing the Presidents’ Commitment to Food and Nutrition Security, becoming one of 110 university presidents worldwide to do so.
As an outgrowth of continued conversations around these issues, the BNC was formed and tasked with identifying best practices and coordinating between different areas of campus to address the basic needs of ESU students.
“It’s hard to learn when you are hungry or don’t have a consistent and safe place to live,” said Jasmine Linabary, co-director of the EAT Initiative and assistant professor in the Department of Communication & Theatre. “This coalition represents an important next step in responding to our students’ basic needs. It is also a testament to the efforts and advocacy of student leaders, collaborating faculty members and campus and community partners who encouraged further action around these issues. I believe we can continue to do more together to address these challenges facing our students and communities.”
The coalition, co-chaired by Eddy and Linabary, includes representatives of a variety of campus offices as well as students, faculty, and community members. The coalition reports to Aswad Allen, ESU’s chief diversity officer.
“Most Americans are more likely to name obesity as a first response to food problems in this country. However, the lack of access to enough quality food for a healthy life is also an urgent public health problem in the U.S. Issues surrounding housing and food issues have been exacerbated and exposed during this unprecedented pandemic,” Allen said. “Households led by women are particularly impacted in greater proportions than the national average. Historically, many college students in need have operated in the shadows of despair. Let’s work together to raise awareness in response to meeting our community’s basic needs.”
To learn more about the BNC or find out how you can help support students in need, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Students and other community members in need can visit the “Resources” page on www.emporia.edu/eat to find available support services.