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Editorial: University must improve strategies for fighting food insecurity

In June, the University announced a revision to the undergraduate student meal plan in an ongoing effort to lessen food insecurity on campus. The update ushered in a handful of adjustments, most notably a requirement that all sophomore students must enroll in either of the two most expensive meal plan options offered to undergraduates. The new policy sparked controversy among students who felt forced to pay unfairly high prices for a meal plan. Disapproval of the University’s meal plan system remains strong today, as The Herald Fall 2019 poll found that 62.9 percent of students feel either somewhat or very dissatisfied with meal plan options.

As noted by the University in its original announcement on the meal plan change, 28 percent of surveyed undergraduates reported experiencing food insecurity in a three-month span. The trend is not limited to Brown. Recent studies show that 41 percent of four-year college students experience food insecurity. While the University’s effort to mitigate food insecurity is important and relevant, large changes that affect an entire class of students are generally impersonal. They present additional financial strain to low-income students and fail to address the root causes of the issue. In light of this national trend and recent attention toward the problem at Brown, the University should do a better job to improve its strategies to combat food insecurity.

With a matter as complex as food insecurity, a policy that impacts the entire sophomore class does not recognize the vast diversity of socioeconomic backgrounds at Brown. Making sure every student has consistent and stable access to food is not as simple as requiring students to purchase a meal plan. The University should know this already; a working group dedicated to studying food insecurity on campus found that many students cited finances, limited time to shop for groceries and a lack of access to adequate cooking facilities as factors contributing to their insecurity. While meals will now be provided at no additional cost to students on meal plan over Spring Break, the changes to the meal plan system largely fail to address any of the working group’s concerns directly.

Ultimately, the University should consider circulating another survey among undergraduate students to understand the factors that contribute to their food insecurity. The results of such a survey could inform the University’s ability to expand upon the nutrition-related policies it has introduced recently. For example, barriers such as time or transportation might make it difficult for students to grocery shop adequately. To mitigate this, Brown has expanded OnCall shuttle service to East Side Marketplace, Stop & Shop and Walmart. We welcome this change, but other efforts from the University do not sufficiently recognize the complex barriers that facilitate food insecurity among students. For instance, earlier this year students learned that they could receive discounts on the grocery delivery service Peapod. But the service requires students to spend a minimum of $60 on their groceries to qualify for delivery, making it financially inaccessible for many. In that vein, the University could do more to develop new policies and initiatives that truly understand the circumstances that many of its students regularly face.

In addition to working on improving policy internally, the University should look to other institutions to see the strategies they have implemented to strengthen food security. It is common to see students advertising free food on Facebook pages affiliated with Brown, and student groups place end-of-the-semester donation boxes outside of campus eateries where individuals can drop off non-perishable items. However, both students and the University could make a stronger impact by adding structure to these philanthropic efforts. For example, Swipe Out Hunger is a nonprofit organization that partners with colleges across the United States in an effort to address food insecurity. Its primary initiative is a “swipe drive,” in which students with extra meal swipes can donate their swipes to students with demonstrated need. Since its founding in 2010, the organization has partnered with over 80 colleges, including Cornell and Penn. The University should look into a potential partnership with an organization such as Swipe Out Hunger. Such a program could be a viable avenue for providing extra resources to students who need them and allowing their peers to make valuable use of unused swipes.

Brown could also consider establishing a campus pantry, where students have access to necessary food items at no additional cost. The pantry’s food would be supplied in part through donations and in part through University funds. The concept is widespread across colleges, which include but are not limited to the University of Arizona and the University of Maryland. By focusing on efforts that provide students with additional food resources, Brown could have an immediate impact on campus-wide food security without placing additional financial strain on students.

The administration at Brown has recognized that food insecurity exists on its campus and has made efforts to improve the situation for students. But these efforts seem misguided by inadvertently causing many students to feel stress rather than relief. To strengthen food security at Brown in a way that is sustainable and nonrestrictive, the University should delve deeper into the issue to fully recognize the complicated factors that can lead a student to experience food insecurity. In doing so, the University will be better positioned to implement effectual solutions that can aid a wider pool of students on campus. Most crucially, however, students who face this problem will feel heard and will be primed to thrive in their academic experience at Brown.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Grace Layer ’20 and Krista Stapleford ’21, and its members, Dylan Tian ’21, Jonathan Douglas ’20, and Riley Pestorius ’21. Send comments to Send comments to


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