Campus Food and Housing Insecurity Addressed at #RealCollege Conference
Last week, two Campus Compact for Southern New England VISTA members attended the #RealCollege conference, a national convening on college student food and housing insecurity, at Temple University in Philadelphia. It was the second annual #RealCollege conference, hosted by Wisconsin Hope Lab.
Caity Vogt and Marie Dillivan are CCSNE VISTA members. Caity serves at the National Campus Compact office as the Housing Partnerships Coordinator VISTA, and Marie serves at CCSNE as the Campus Food Security VISTA. They work on researching food and housing insecurity among college students, mapping interventions, and identifying and curating resources for campuses aiming to address these issues.
The first day of #RealCollege included panel presentations discussing food and housing insecurity, and how to create and support systemic change in higher education. Researchers, practitioners, and policymakers shared their unique perspectives on addressing food and housing insecurity among college students. John King, President and CEO of The Education Trust and former Secretary of Education for President Obama, spoke on the need for educational equity and reform in colleges and universities. Jessica Sutherland, co-founder and President of Homeless to Higher Ed (H2H), presented on H2H, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping homeless youth access and succeed in higher education. Conference attendees then broke into workshops that focused on a variety of topics such as program development and best practices for addressing food and housing insecurity on campuses, research on basic needs insecurity in higher education, non-traditional financial aid, and policy opportunities.
The #RealCollege conference was an excellent opportunity for the VISTAs to further their knowledge and connections around these issues affecting college students. Caity learned about the variety of organizations and sectors working to address housing insecurity among college students. Staff from colleges and universities, community organizations, foundations, and housing authorities described their initiatives that provide resources for housing insecure students. Collaboration among professionals in multiple fields is essential when addressing this student need. All professionals involved in this work should consider the variety of backgrounds that students experiencing housing insecurity may come from in order to implement effective programs to meet the diverse needs of this population. It is critical that students that have experienced housing insecurity have a voice in addressing the issue.
Marie’s main takeaways for her food insecurity work include the importance of data in advocating for students experiencing food insecurity, the need for making services and resources searchable and easily accessible by students, and the need to examine and address the issue beyond creating campus food pantries.
Although campus food pantries are incredibly important in supporting students with immediate need, as Ruben Canedo stated the first morning of the conference, “We are not going to food pantry our way out of this”.
Interventions must be designed around providing students with resources in a sustainable way, and root causes of the issue as well as effectiveness of interventions need to be examined further. Marie will continue this work on the CCSNE Campus Food Security page and in planning a regional conference to be held on May 11, 2018 at Worcester State University as a follow-up from last May’s Voices of Hunger event at Bunker Hill Community College.