At the University of Connecticut, in order to eat in the campus dining halls you need a meal plan which is at least $3,000 per semester and $6,000 per year. One crucial success of the administration in regards to food policy has been the implementation of an unlimited swipes program so that students with meal plans do not have to worry about limiting their consumption or visits to dining halls. However, for students who opt out of an expensive meal plan, food insecurity can be a great worry.
Anyone who regularly eats in UConn dining halls has probably used a flex pass to swipe in at least one student without a meal plan. These are food-insecure students who struggle to afford the meal plans offered on campus due to a combination of high prices and the many other financial stresses upon college students, including housing and loan debt. According to the College and University Food Bank Alliance, 30% of college students are food-insecure. Despite being a top public university, students at UConn struggle with high costs of attendance and life here, both of which impede our access to basic necessities such as food.
The administration’s attempts to tackle food insecurity in the past have been insufficient. They collaborated last fall with an organization called Swipe Out Hunger, which attempts to work with college campuses to end hunger and other varieties of food insecurity. The initiative allowed students with meal plans to “donate” their flex passes in exchange for $2.50 which was split between a few causes. One of which was the UConn swipes initiative, which attempts to give food insecure students meals. Note that the administration itself spent nothing on this initiative.
Meal plans on campus cost approximately $30 for every day we spend on campus as undergraduate students. This amount is enough to purchase three large meals at local restaurants that lack the efficiency of buffet style mass production and which must profit on top of revenue. These meal plans contain a minimum of 35 flex passes per semester, which, as a quick conversation with any student will inform you, mostly go unused. It is convenient that the university collects these flex passes we have already paid for as donations toward food insecurity.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a “household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” Food security is more than lack of access to proper food, it is a lack of access caused by one’s financial circumstances. Here at UConn, students’ financial circumstances are in part maintained by the administration, which presides over increasing costs of life and education while simultaneously neglecting the large threat posed by food insecurity to students on campus. They are content asking for our donation to fix this glaring moral stain.
Due to the inaction on behalf of the administration, student organizations USG and ConnPIRG have recently created Husky Market, which distributes food bi-weekly without question to students on campus in a bid to combat food insecurity. Furthermore, activists with the UConn Black Environmentalists recently organized a food pantry in the African American Cultural Center with the same vital purpose. These are a just a recent few in a long history of past student efforts to combat food insecurity on campus.
The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of work being done to combat food insecurity on campus is funded by our fee bills or supported through student activism. While absolutely invaluable given the circumstances, we should not have to rely on these contributions to attend a school where all students are well fed. The administration’s silence on food insecurity is forcing students themselves to bear the cost of providing each other basic necessities. Do they not share our moral obligation to ensure that students on campus are free from hunger?
Food, like all other basic necessities, is a human right, and we must move toward policy systems which guarantee these rights rather than restrict them behind paywalls which disproportionately harm low income students. We need an administration that recognizes our health and well-being are essential to the functioning of the campus and works with us to eliminate food insecurity.
Harrison Raskin is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.