More than a fifth of students reported financial hardship affording food, according to the [email protected] survey in October 2018. This gives us a glimpse into the problem of food insecurity at NYU — but the problem doesn’t end with our university. A recent study shows that nearly half of two-year and four-year undergraduate students face food insecurity — being without reliable access to affordable, nutritious food — from a sample of 30,000. In response, large universities like Rutgers and CUNY have conducted large studies to better understand the problem. NYU has yet to follow suit.
Despite taking recent steps to increase measures against it, one thing remains clear: NYU could do much more to fight food insecurity. At a minimum, conducting a university-wide survey gives NYU the information it needs to start adequately addressing food insecurity.
The university’s response to food insecurity has been lackluster at best. In the 2015-2016 school year, NYU created the Food Insecurity Workgroup, which created the Courtesy Meals Program, offering 75 Dining Dollars to students who find themselves unable to afford their next meal, no questions asked. However, the university did not publicize the program until recently. In a statement to WSN last September, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Marc Wais, who convened and chaired the Food Insecurity Work Group in spring 2016, said the decision was made because the university feared students would “view this as an entitlement or exploit the program.”
Just over 30 students had used the program in each semester since its creation, except for last fall, when 1,165 unique students did so — after the university publicized the program. This cohort more than likely overlaps with the over 3,000 students who reported being unable to afford food on the [email protected] Survey.
In November, the Student Government Assembly hosted a town hall discussing food insecurity at NYU, following results from the [email protected] survey. The presentations featured Steinhardt graduate student Jon Chin, who founded Share Meals, an organization which allows students to share leftover meal swipes with those who might need them. There were also conversations about students — particularly international and undocumented students — who might not have access to the funding necessary to alleviate food insecurity.
In light of the growing awareness about food insecurity, both here at NYU and across the nation, the need for more comprehensive solutions is becoming clear. This problem has become more apparent amidst the recent announcement of a change in food service provider, which raises more questions about food accessibility on campus. NYU says it required Chartwells, the new food service provider, to specifically address food insecurity and food waste in their programs, although the details remain unknown.
As mentioned above, NYU can look to the examples of other universities breaking ground in this territory. Universities like CUNY, Rutgers and Harvard have published studies analyzing food insecurity at their respective universities in order to bring the issue to light and brainstorm potential solutions going forward. In their study, a group of professors and university administrators at Rutgers determined how their findings will allow them to consider additional programs, like expanding the Rutgers Student Food Pantry — an initiative created specifically for students, faculty and staff. The study advocates for training sessions to raise awareness of the issue and services available for everyone on campus, training students, in particular, to help one another in seeking out resources.
As the increase in students using NYU’s Courtesy Meals Program last semester shows, the awareness of resources is integral for progress. The study also notes the crucial institutional changes necessary to combat the epidemic of food insecurity, including raising minimum wage on campus and increasing state and federal investments in combating food insecurity.
CUNY, on the other hand, aims to partner with food companies to provide discounts on healthy foods for students, give students on CUNY campuses more access to New York City food assistance programs and create on-site food pantries.
These are models that NYU can pursue. It is crucial that our campus open up the forum for more discussion in order to analyze, explore and interpret potential solutions with contributions from a variety of directions. As these studies point out, progress will require a monetary investment, whether it comes from the university administration or government funding. This is undoubtedly a worthy allocation of funds. For a school as prestigious as NYU to neglect the issue of hungry students on campus, while charging such exorbitant prices for tuition and meal plans, is an extreme oversight. The NYU administration should take the steps necessary to address this crisis, which has been relegated to the background for far too long.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 15, 2019, print edition. Email the Editorial Board at [email protected]