Many college students have heard anecdotal stories of current and former students surviving on a diet of ramen noodles. However, behind this veil of humor lies a real issue affecting college-age students around the country, one that has recently gained attention at Binghamton University.
According to a recent MyBinghamton Weekly Poll, a survey available to all BU students to participate in at the MyBinghamton portal, approximately 1,800 students, or 42 percent of poll takers, reported that in the past 30 days they had to stay hungry at least once due to a lack of money. In a recent national survey by the Urban Institute, nearly half of all college-age students reported experiencing some type of food insecurity in the course of their college career.
The poll bought campus attention to the issue, including attention from representatives of the Student Culinary Council (SCC), a team of students who advocate for students’ dining voices on and off campus.
“While food insecurity is not the primary role of SCC, this issue was recently brought heavily to our attention because of this poll,” a representative of the SCC wrote. “The SCC would love to be more involved in the effort against food insecurity on the [BU] campus and surrounding area and would love input or feedback on what our role in this could be.”
Similar food insecurity issues have been found throughout the SUNY system, prompting the creation of the SUNY Food Insecurity Task Force in 2018. The task force is responsible for researching the issue of food insecurity and devising the best course of action to combat it. BU has also taken steps to try to reduce food insecurity on campus, promoting efforts from the Office of the Dean of Students and the Consultation, Advocacy, Referral and Education (CARE) Team, establishing the Bear Necessities Food Pantry and hosting a number of programs on campus, including the Food Recovery Network and Feeding Our Hungry World.
But some, such as Matthew Mandel, a junior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, say the efforts aren’t enough. Mandel, an advocate for food security and variety since his freshman year, argued the recent poll proves that the University must amp up its efforts against the issue.
“When over [2,000] students reported starving at a school of only 14,021 undergraduates, many with religious or health-related dietary restrictions — a school with an investment spending budget of $137 million, based on a 2017 [BU] Foundation report, and a school which offers its president a salary of $510,000 based on a 2011 Press & Sun-Bulletin report — these students are not simply starving; rather they are necessarily being starved,” Mandel wrote in a speech delivered to the director of the BU Auxiliary Services.
In his speech, Mandel asked the University to consider hiring a student budget counselor and increasing the number of food drives offered on campus. This semester, he plans to meet Deanne Ellison, director of Auxiliary Services, and hopes his advocacy will lead to tangible changes.
“This school has a rigorous student-body selection process and those admitted are expected to bring their A-game when it comes to delivering the best work possible to their professors,” Mandel wrote. “When hundreds are starving, the academic focus required to deliver the best work to professors simply cannot be expected of these students. We must prioritize the health and safety of our student body in order to expect the best from them.”