Campus hunger can be eradicated today with Cole’s support

Colleges and universities are facing a hunger epidemic. Over the last decade, numerous reports have shown that 20% to 45% of college students are food insecure.
Allegheny College itself is not immune to this crisis. A study published in 2020 found that 29% of Allegheny student-athletes reported being food insecure. Since 2020, a lot has changed at our college, but the issue of hunger has not gone away. Through the use of student enrollment numbers, demographic data and national studies on student food insecurity, it can be roughly calculated that Allegheny has a potential student food insecurity rate as high as 38% — almost four times higher than the national average of 10.2%.
Campus hunger is an alarming issue. Studies have shown that food-insecure college students are more likely to be depressed, have anxiety, be sleep-deprived, binge drink and have poorer health. They also frequently lack the energy to focus on their exams, classes or assignments, leading to them having lower GPAs and higher dropout rates than their food-secure peers. The difficulties that food-insecure students face add to the challenges that nontraditional, minority, LGBTQ+, low-income and first-generation students already face when obtaining a degree, as they are disproportionately more likely to face hunger in college.
Until this academic year, discussion around hunger at Allegheny has been largely limited, which is not surprising, as the issue is mainly invisible and extremely difficult to discuss. Research has shown that food-insecure students are ashamed to ask for help from their peers, family, faculty or staff. Furthermore, food-secure students are afraid to embarrass their food-insecure friends by offering help. Unfortunately, the current culture across different campuses — including Allegheny’s — has normalized the starving college student lifestyle, which has left hungry students to suffer in silence.
Student action at Allegheny is growing to meet the magnitude of the hunger situation, as the issue has become a prominent point of discussion in Allegheny Student Government, but President Ron Cole, ’87, and his administration have been slow to react to the problem. They have made some strides, such as working with Aramark to begin accepting meal swipes at McKinley’s Food Court but could be doing much more to address this campus hunger crisis.
To begin with, the meal plan structure on campus needs to change. With ever-increasing prices at McKinley’s, the meal plans no longer provide their intended number of weekly meals. For example, I am on Meal Plan B, which allots me seven meal swipes and $90 of Munch Money a week. This plan is supposed to get me 15 meals per week but usually gets me around 13 instead.
Using a similar calculation, Plan A offers only 17 meals a week instead of 20, and Plan C provides only around nine weekly meals instead of 12. These calculations also assume that a student is not purchasing any snacks or drinks from AC Express or Pine Market, meaning that the number of meals each plan offers is likely even lower.
In short, while the prices of the meal plans have stayed the same, the number of meals they offer has decreased. Consequently, more students have to supplement their weekly meals by cooking or eating out. Many students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, do not have the excess money to afford groceries or takeout, especially after paying for a meal plan. Furthermore, with our campus being a 15-minute walk to the nearest grocery store and having less-than-ideal transportation to downtown Meadville or Walmart, it seems unrealistic to expect that students can easily access off-campus food sources. There is also the issue that most residential spaces on campus do not have the kitchen capacity or quality to accommodate the number of students who are expected to cook in them.
To reduce food insecurity on campus, administrators need to ensure that, at minimum, the smallest plan offered allows a student to consistently access at least 14 meals a week, two meals a day. With this reform, Allegheny must also ensure that the prices of the meal plans do not increase, and if they do, the college must begin subsidizing their costs for low-income and Pell-eligible students. Furthermore, the food served on campus must be nutritious, healthy and palatable while also meeting students’ cultural, religious and dietary needs — a standard it currently fails to reach.
The administration also needs to implement more support mechanisms for food-insecure students. Our campus lacks a center that supports students’ socioeconomic needs, like hunger. No one on campus is dedicated to helping students fill out applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or helping them connect to a local food bank. When students raise concerns about being hungry, they are told to fill out a Gator Success Grant, but this grant is a Band-Aid rather than a sustainable solution to on-campus hunger.
Allegheny should establish a new center run by Student Life that acts as a resource hub administering information, services and assistance to hungry students. After the center begins offering these services, an effort must be made to advertise them to the Allegheny community, ensuring that students, faculty and staff know where students can obtain help if they are hungry.
This center should also adopt ASG’s food pantry. While doing a lot of good, ASG’s pantry is not sustainable in the long run and would have a much better home in Student Life as more resources, time, funding and energy could be given to it. For example, an empty office space could be converted into a pantry room, allowing the placement of a fridge and the distribution of fresh produce, which is currently lacking in ASG’s pantry. The center could also easily partner with local or regional food banks, helping ensure the pantry is consistently stocked instead of the current system of relying on limited ASG funding and infrequent community donations to fill its shelves.
By implementing some of the recommendations above, Allegheny will take meaningful steps toward being classified as a Hunger-Free Campus by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and will join the ranks of other institutions like Westminster College, Bucknell University and Muhlenberg College. In addition, by obtaining this designation, Allegheny will have access to state-provided grants that would allow the administration to continually fund anti-hunger initiatives on campus.
Cole and his cabinet alone cannot solve the national issue of college hunger — only a combination of state, federal and on-campus policies could do that — but it is within their power to address current campus policies and procedures that perpetuate the problem at Allegheny. As long as hunger remains a prominent issue at our college, the administration has a duty to us to explore ways to adequately address it. I am hopeful that Cole hears, understands and respects our concerns and will begin working to eradicate hunger at Allegheny.