Bright Distinguished Associate Professor of American History Cate Denial keeps food in her office to give out to students and takes snacks to her classes.
Denial started doing so after multiple students talked to her about experiencing food insecurity. Since then, she has also brought it up to the faculty committees and the problem has been discussed in Student Senate.
“[They] would say things to me like, ‘Yeah, I really didn’t have enough to eat this summer,’ or ‘I ran out of meal swipes to the Caf.’ And so it was generally after the point at which they needed help,” Denial said.
Junior Maddie Schacht has noticed another potential issue with food on shorter terms. The way the hours of the Caf, Gizmo and the Grab-N-Go’s hours work leave some gaps around breakfast and lunch with no or few food options available.
“People with third hour would have to get up early or wait for lunch if they want to get those things. Also people with first hour or work at 7:30, the Caf opens at 7:30 so it’s just kind of limiting when you’re able to get breakfast depending on when you have class and where your options are,” Schacht said.
The faculty addressed the problem to the Student Life Committee (SLC), which is still in the very early stages of looking at it. Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Ben Farrer explained that they are working on how to approach the problem in a way appropriate to Knox.
One issue is that most of the studies that have been done have not been focused on four-year, residential colleges like Knox.
“There is a lot of research done on food insecurity on college campuses but less than food insecurity in schools. …
And when it is studied in respect to colleges, it tends to be community colleges or larger universities where not as many people live on campus,” Farrer said.
Denial had found a study done by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab titled “Hungry and Homeless in College.” It surveyed community college students and showed that 67% of the respondents to the survey had experienced marginal, low, or very low food security in the month prior to being surveyed.
“While that wasn’t the same population as we have here, if we had even a fraction of the numbers in the HOPE Lab reports, then we really had a big problem,” she said.
Student Senate Dining Services chair junior Leonard Monterey also serves on SLC. He has been watching the issue since it first started to be discussed late last school year.
“I sure hope it’s not as big a problem as I think it [is],” he said.
Monterey recently attended a resident advisor convention and was surprised to hear other RAs’ campuses had been dealing with the problem as well. He noted some of the solutions they had, including on-campus food pantries, and plans to bring them up to SLC.
Given the uncertainty of the exact nature of the problem and its scope at Knox, both Monterey and Farrer said that it was still too early to really start looking at solutions.
“I’m just hoping it’s not even a problem overall,” Monterey said.
One other issue with addressing the problem is the stigma that can be attached to it. Denial noted that she had only heard from students after the period of insecurity they had experienced, not during.
“I think that we have to start talking about this though because we’ve got to change the conversation about it,” Denial said. “If we can talk about this and normalize this and make it clear that if you are having difficulties with food security there are solutions, more people are gonna come forward. Right now there is a stigma attached.”