Husky Market, Undergraduate Student Government’s flagship address to food insecurity at the University of Connecticut, is underway for another season of offering students $300 grocery gift cards to aid with acquiring food. Although the application process to participate is closed, Husky Market has proven its efficacy at a small scale by extending its services to around 1,500 students during its approximately two years of existence. But the fact that this high a margin of UConn students are demonstrably food insecure is a major cause for alarm, prompting critical questions about the institutional role UConn has in neglecting many students’ access – or lack thereof – to food.
According to the Husky Market website, an astounding 55% of UConn students experience some variety of food insecurity. Causes for this may range from the prohibitive cost of UConn’s dining plans, hovering around $3,000 per semester, to strict time constraints that come with being an off-campus commuter or having a heavy course load. Whatever the case, it is UConn’s obligation to ensure that every student can sufficiently feed themselves as they or their families incur massive costs to receive an education.
We have to ask ourselves, why is it the job of students to cover for the insufficiencies of UConn’s administration? Is it a sign of a healthy and efficient system that the many thousands of dollars of the student fees we pay at UConn are used to merely touch up food insecurity when it could be used to eliminate student hunger altogether? The student community is not the head administrative body at UConn — and if we are, our wallets certainly don’t reflect that. As such, it is ludicrous that the administration relinquishes the job of making sure students have ample access to food to the student community itself, which implies that much time is sacrificed from academics. This intuitively contradicts the function of a university as a center for cultivating knowledge, for — as any student involved in campus organizing knows — trudging uphill to make institutional change is hugely conducive to mental burnout.
Dining services employees, many of whom are students, work tirelessly — and sometimes thanklessly, unfortunately — to provide abundant food options for students on and off campus to access. Being overworked enough, dining workers shouldn’t bear the brunt of responsibility for a food insecurity crisis that could be easily solved through uncontroversial institutional measures — that is, uncontroversial among students, not a Board of Trustees who have a vested interest in cutting costs to essential services and enticing wealthy donors. There are immediate “common sense” fixes we could make to food access at UConn that could greatly benefit the majority contingent of students who experience food insecurity.
Starting small, a popular holdover from UConn’s pandemic policies was the implementation of to-go boxes, which would allow students to store food outside of traditional dining hall hours. Students who grind for hours on assignments and exercises, as so many of us have to do, only to be free at odd hours of the night could suddenly have access to their back catalog of nutrition if using to-go boxes was not so discouraged and restricted. Are cardboard boxes so cost-prohibitive that a multitude of stipulations need to be met in order to use them? If so, then food insecure students certainly deserve a say in the conversation deciding that.
This problem of cutting corners as it relates to prices highlights the broader issue of the UConn administration’s misplaced priorities. The ongoing construction of the Northwest Science Quad would undoubtedly be a welcome development for our passionate STEM peers, but what use is an ornate science complex for the student who suffers from hunger day in and day out? How hospitable is a new South campus residence hall to students running on an empty stomach? The UConn administration, which continually places lifeless capital over its lively student population, has to answer these questions as the cost of dining plans remains absurdly high.
Every future season of Husky Market should force us to question why there is a need for this program in the first place. That the sheer scale of student food insecurity has not forced university administrators to reconsider how its policies contribute to the problem is unconscionable. The Daily Campus Editorial Board calls for a reduction in the cost of dining plans, as well as the adoption of simple provisions such as widely accessible to-go boxes that may mitigate the severity of hunger in our community.