48 Percent Of College Students Can't Afford Food, But A Hunger Strike Is Trying To Change That

by Katie Mitchell

Food insecurity — the lack of reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food — impacts college students on many campuses throughout the country, and to a much bigger degree than most people think. Of the college students who are food insecure, which comprises up to 48 percent of all students, 53 percent reported missing a class; 54 percent missed a study session; 55 percent opted out of extracurricular activities; and 25 percent had to drop a class due to hunger, according to the National Student Campaign Against Hunger & Homelessness. On Nov. 2, a group of about 25 Spelman and Morehouse students began a hunger strike to raise awareness about food insecurity on college campuses, according to Crossroads News, a community newspaper in Georgia. The students are also proposing a change to school policy that requires unused meals from a student’s meal plan to go to waste. Joyce Davis, Spelman's director of marketing and communications, told Crossroads News that the college "look[s] forward to working with Aramark as we continue to explore the extent of the problem." Davis also shared that the administration plans on meeting with strike participants to discuss the issue of on-campus hunger. Bustle reached out to Morehouse College for comment, and will update this post when we hear back.

Currently, students residing in Spelman’s and Morehouse’s on-campus dormitories are required to have a meal plan, whether they plan on using it or not. Hunger strike participants and supporters want the on-campus food vendor, a company called Aramark, to establish a “swipe” sharing procedure, which has been established at nearly 30 other institutions. “Swipes” refers to the swiping of a meal plan card to gain entry into the school’s dining hall. Of the nearly 4,400 students at Spelman and Morehouse, only about 1,400 do not have a meal plan, according to CrossRoads News. These plans can costs up to nearly $3,000 per year. Because the meals are are already paid for, students believe they should be able to share them with those who need them, rather than having them go to waste.

Lillian Thomas, one of the participants of the strike, attends Spelman College. Her diet, which restricts the consumption of all animal products, doesn’t leave her many options at the school’s dining hall, so most of her meals for the week go unused.

“Out of the 21 meals I get per week I might use about 5, so it would be easy for me to donate my unused swipes to Spelman students who are actually in need of the food,” Thomas told CrossRoads News.

These unused meals could be going to food insecure college students, who need the fuel from nutrients to focus and succeed in their academic studies. According to a report from the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, the burden of food insecurity falls harder on people of color. The report also found that 57 percent of Black or African American students reported food insecurity, compared to 40 percent of non-Hispanic white students.

While most may not typically think of a college student as the face of hunger in America, college campuses throughout the country have already acknowledged the very real problem of food insecurity among their students. In 2009, the University of California, Los Angeles partnered with Swipe Out Hunger, the leading organization in ending college student hunger. The organization currently has nearly 30 chapters. The hunger strike participants at Spelman and Morehouse want chapters at their colleges, allowing them to donate their meals to their classmates.

“By introducing a Swipe Out Hunger program at Spelman and Morehouse, we would directly impact student hunger and raise the awareness on issues impacting our fellow students experiencing hunger and homelessness while in college,” Mary-Pat Hector, a Spelman student and National Youth Director for the National Action Network, told CrossRoads News.

Strike participants plan to bring a petition that calls for both colleges to revise their contract with Aramark so students are allowed to share swipes to the meeting with college administration. Hector sums up the motivation behind this bold action in the petition summary: “We cannot live lives as agents of change while we idly stand by as our peers go without food.”