BHCC Organizes Voices of Hunger on Campus Summit
Friday, May 12, 2017On Friday, May 5, Bunker Hill Community College welcomed nearly 200 representatives from public and private universities and colleges across the state of Massachusetts, along with community leaders and partners, to the first convening of Voices of Hunger on Campus.
At the summit, BHCC President Pam Eddinger recognized the important roles played by private donors and community partners, but also those within the college who advocate for the basic needs of their students.
Massachusetts Department of Higher Education Commissioner Carlos E. Santiago spoke at the event, recognizing President Eddinger as a catalyst in bringing student hunger and food insecurity to the forefront of the conversation, He reflected on his first few weeks as Commissioner when he met with students at BHCC who spoke about the challenges of hunger and homelessness. For the Commissioner, who anticipated students to be concerned with tuition costs and fees, the conversation was a wake-up call. He identified four areas of support that required immediate attention: (1) hunger, (2) homelessness, (3) transportation and (4) daycare.
“These are not the typical expenses that we talk about in terms of higher education,” said Commissioner Santiago, “but today our student population has changed. The old ‘gatekeeper model’ is no longer the model we need to follow. We need to follow a student success model, and we need to truly address the changing needs of our students.”
Renowned Temple University Education Sociologist Sara Goldrick-Rab, whose new book Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream enlarged our traditional understanding of the cost of education beyond tuition and fees, keynoted the convening.
“These are not actually new problems,” said Goldrick-Rab to the room of educators and activists. “It just wasn’t something that we talked about, and now we’re starting to say it out loud, perhaps for some of us, for one of the first times.”
Goldrick-Rab is also the founder of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, the nation’s only transnational research laboratory seeking ways to make college more affordable. Earlier this year, researchers at the lab surveyed 33,000 students studying at 70 two-year institutions across 24 states, including students at BHCC. Their report, “Hungry and Homeless in College,” found that more than 65% of students struggle with food insecurity, half are housing insecure, one third are regularly hungry and 14% are homeless.
Goldrick-Rab urged the audience to find ways to serve the immediate needs of students, but not to overlook the need for long-term solutions. “Be very careful assuming that the food pantry is going to get the job done, because people go to food pantries in emergencies; it’s supposed to be a last resort,” she said. She encouraged the audience to work beyond pantries to establish a meal voucher program, institute food scholarships or renegotiate cafeteria swipes with their college’s food vendors.
“The best food pantries are institutional priorities funded by the institution’s budget, and central to the institution’s mission. And they are part of a network of additional efforts.”
Lastly, she asked that the audience go back to their campuses and communities and bring their knowledge to the table locally and nationally. “These realities are only getting worse in the coming years,” she said, “which is why it’s time to act, and it is time to document what you do when you take action so that others can learn from you.”
Following the presentation, guests participated in roundtable discussions with the goal of identifying actionable steps that they could institute on their campuses immediately, and the first steps in moving the policy conversation locally, regionally and nationally.
As institutions of higher education, administrators and educators work within the framework of student access, retention, completion and their graduate’s success. Food insecurity and hunger has emerged as a major deterrent for students who wish to transform their lives through education.
“We must not just look at the anecdotal evidence of hunger, but quantify the problem so that we can move our students along the road to success,” said President Eddinger, “and figure out how to initiate policy work on our campuses and across the region, so that we can take care of this problem for good.”
The discussions were aimed at: (1) Listening to the voices of students on hunger; (2) Contextualizing the stories of students through data collection and analyses; (3) Sharing high impact practices; and (4) Talking through possible steps towards changes in public policy. During a listening session at Voices of Hunger, recorded student voices spoke to the experiences of hunger and food insecurity from the student perspective.
Committed to action, President Eddinger closed the summit with the promise to compile a white paper of the day’s proceedings for participants and public distribution. In the coming year, BHCC will chronicle and document the results of this year’s convening, and continue to track progress by partnering with another college or university in Massachusetts to organize the Voices of Hunger on Campus summit on its campus next spring.
For more information on Voices of Hunger on Campus, please visit bhcc.edu/voh