New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Opinion: NYU must stop heavily relying on student generosity to provide food security

Instead of depending on Swipe it Forward, the university should take responsibility for addressing food insecurity on campus.
Mehr Kotval
(Mehr Kotval for WSN)

NYU’s meal swipe donation program, Swipe it Forward, is at best a token gesture toward solving food insecurity. The program, which relies on students with meal plans to donate swipes to their peers who lack or run out of swipes, is a commendable initiative, but ultimately shifts the burden of responsibility onto students rather than addressing the underlying issues at hand. By outsourcing the solution to food insecurity to students’ acts of kindness, NYU is neglecting its institutional duty to provide comprehensive support for all students.

To be eligible to receive meal swipes through Swipe it Forward, you must be enrolled either at NYU’s Washington Square or Brooklyn campus and have no meal plan, run completely out of meal swipes or have less than $15 remaining Dining Dollars. Students can redeem a meal swipe once per week at Lipton dining hall, Downstein, Third North dining hall and Kosher Eatery, as well as at Jasper Kane Cafe in Brooklyn. 

But only receiving one meal per week means that food insecure students continue to grapple with hunger and hardship. The initiative fails to provide a meaningful or efficient solution, and falls short of its intended purpose of offering even temporary relief through immediate access to meals.

The high cost of living in New York City exacerbates financial challenges for many students, making it difficult to afford nutritious meals. The issue is compounded by the fact that housing is not guaranteed for transfer students and those looking to move back into campus housing, which adds another layer of insecurity for students trying to make rent every month. 

And it isn’t just a small group of students experiencing this problem, either. In 2019, NYU conducted a food security survey, receiving responses from 257 undergraduate students. The survey found that 41% of respondents “met criteria for food insecurity” on campus, and in a second round of data collection, 26% of 193 student respondents said they were experiencing “low to very low food security.”

Food insecurity doesn’t just impact a person’s basic well-being and livelihood, but also impedes their academic performance and potential. A 2021 study of 663 undergraduate students found that “food security status affects students’ psychosocial status and academic performance,” and that food insecurity was also associated with stress, anxiety and depression. 

This leads to food insecure students receiving lower grades, facing higher rates of absenteeism and finding it more difficult to complete coursework, perpetuating a cycle of academic underachievement and socioeconomic disadvantage. If NYU wants to give all students a fair shot at academic success, it needs to address food insecurity through a nuanced understanding of intersecting inequalities and a commitment to implementing inclusive policies and support services that prioritize the needs of all students, particularly those from historically marginalized communities.

There is also an already-existing stigma and humiliation experienced by students seeking assistance. Didi Onwuanyi, a CAS senior who ran out of meal swipes toward the end of the fall 2023 semester, said she had to request additional Dining Dollars from the StudentLink Center. This wasn’t her first encounter with running out of meal swipes. She said she was astonished that the university suggested preventing a recurrence, and advised her to seek employment, adding that she felt unfairly blamed for her inability to stretch her meal plan.

“I was juggling 20 credits; I simply couldn’t commit to a full-time job,” Onwuanyi said. “The entire ordeal felt intimidating, humiliating and patronizing. It discourages me from seeking help there in the future.”

NYU, with its substantial $5.9 billion endowment and vast resources, has a moral obligation to implement proactive measures that prioritize the well-being of its students, including affordable meal plans and better support for food insecure students. The university needs to stop turning its back on students and go beyond faulty, Band-Aid solutions to address the root causes of food insecurity among students. NYU can demonstrate a genuine commitment to addressing food insecurity by fully covering meal plans to students who qualify for free tuition and lowering the costs of meal plans.

NYU did not respond to a request for comment.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Mehr Kotval at [email protected].

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    XplorerApr 18, 2024 at 2:17 pm

    I agree with you! Too often stop-gap solutions become the only solution rather than a spotlight on the larger issue to be addressed! Thanks for being that spotlight!