How does Hopkins assist food-insecure students?

By EMILY MCDONALD | March 28, 2019

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COURTESY OF ARPAN SAHOO Hopkins dining announced that there will be more food options over breaks.

Hopkins Dining announced that starting this semester, dining halls will provide expanded options during spring, fall and Thanksgiving breaks in an effort to support both food-insecure students and those staying in Baltimore over breaks. Eventually, the University plans on providing dining options during all breaks when residence halls are open. 

Other changes to Hopkins Dining include upcoming renovations to Levering Kitchens and the formation of a 10-member student advisory board for dining experience. This year, Hopkins has also begun hosting Community Nights at the Fresh Food Cafe (FFC) every Tuesday, where faculty and administrators can join students for a meal. 

In an email to The News-Letter, Dean of Academic and Student Services Andrew Wilson addressed the decision to revamp the program and to offer dining options over breaks. 

“Both food insecurity and student feedback have led this initiative where we have identified opportunities to serve students during breaks,” he wrote. 

Co-president of the First-generation, Limited-Income Network Melissa Eustache has experienced food insecurity at Hopkins. She explained that for most of this school year, she did not want to ask for any extra financial support from her family. Often, the money that she made at her work-study job did not cover the cost of food and other expenses.

“For me, food insecurity came in the form of not being able to grocery shop or shop for food in a way that was timely or matched the amount that I was making with work study and all the other expenses that I had to make as a junior off-campus,” she said. “A lot of the time it would be a choice between the necessary expenses and buying food for the week.”

Eustache addressed the decision to keep dining halls open during breaks. 

“That would definitely be a productive first step,” she said. “Especially during the first year of transition and being a freshman on campus and not having food open or food available to you. It was a little jarring, but I think I was fortunate enough that I was already working and had a job to finance that.”

Assistant Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education Anthony Abraham Jack researches challenges facing lower-income students at elite private schools and is the author of The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students

In an op-ed for the Times Higher Education published in Feb., Jack wrote about how Hopkins closed dining halls over breaks. According to Jack, that practice failed to take into account low-income and food-insecure students.

“The assumption that all students depart for family reunions around a turkey dinner during Thanksgiving — or for fun in the sun during spring break — condemns those who can’t afford to travel (as well as those with troubled familial relationships) to go hungry for days on end,” he wrote. 

Eustache, too, noted some of the challenges faced by lower-income students at expensive schools. She addressed the misconception that because Hopkins is an elite university, food insecurity is not a prevalent issue on campus. Eustache believes that it is important for students who are experiencing food insecurity to speak out about it. 

“The misconception would probably be better alleviated if more people who are supported by financial aid in more ways than one were candid about their experience and they were vocal about that to people who are actually making decisions about school and aid,” she said.

However, Eustache explained that there are negative social implications that surround being a low-income student at Hopkins.

“For a lot of people there’s stigma of being shamed and being ridiculed about that kind of thing, like being on scholarship or being here in a way that makes you disadvantaged,” she said. “I’m a strong believer that you can’t ask people to make room for you if they don’t know that you don’t fit, so being vocal about how you feel underserved is important.”

In an email to The News-Letter, Jack explained that it is important for universities to collect data on the specific challenges faced by students so that administrators know how to best address them.

“We need not only to know how prevalent the problem is, but also its nature. What I mean by that is the whens and hows. What does food insecurity look like on campus. Is it chronic, meaning that it is happening to students daily? Or is it episodic, happening during and around breaks in the calendar?” he wrote. “This is not just about numbers and statistics. It is about the lived experiences behind them.”

Jack believes that universities should address different forms of food insecurity in different ways. For students who face chronic food insecurity, colleges should promote programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and food pantries, Jack said. For others, he thinks that initiatives like expanded access to dining services can help. 

Byron D’Mello is the co-founder of the Hopkins Pantry, a food pantry located in the Office of Multicultural Affairs that provides essentials from food to toiletries. He said that he decided to co-found the project after conducting an informal survey for his Professional Communication for Business, Science and Industry class. Of the 200 students he talked to, D’Mello found that around 40 percent experienced food insecurity at least once a month. 

D’Mello addressed the University’s decision to keep dining halls open over breaks. 

“Having Nolan’s open doesn’t address food insecurity, it just means allowing international students to spend their money,” he said. “You can have all these programs set up to make people that already have the money’s lives better or more enjoyable, but for people who don’t have the resources to go to those dining halls to experience that, this doesn’t help them, unless Nolan’s or FFC or any of those dining halls donate some of that food to those who are experiencing food insecurity.”

Jack’s op-ed for the Times Higher Education focused on food insecurity in the wake of Michael Bloomberg’s $1.8 billion donation to Hopkins, which marked the largest-ever contribution to a U.S. college or university. In an email to The News-Letter, Jack noted the disparity between this contribution and the realities of students facing food insecurity on campus. 

“I watched closely when JHU received the gift from Bloomberg as I knew that the dining halls are traditionally not open during breaks. Think about the contrast. One week after receiving the biggest gift in higher education history, students were going hungry, scrounging for food,” he wrote.

Eustache also believes that financial aid does not necessarily account for the voices of those who are food insecure.

“I’ve spoken to financial aid, and all they tell me is that they set their budget based on survey data and how much people generally estimate about having food, but a lot of that negates the fact that a lot of students do have help from home,” she said. “I don’t think the people that have these problems are the ones who are talking about it.”

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