Hunger Solutions Institute Managing Director Talks Campus Hunger During Conversations with the White House, Congressional Committee

Brittney Kimber | Communications and Marketing Specialist | Hunger Solutions Institute

Alicia Powers, managing director of Auburn University College of Human Sciences’ Hunger Solutions Institute (HSI), recently participated as a panelist during the “Bread for the World: Conversation with the White House in the Southeast Region” virtual event and as a witness during the U.S. House Rules Committee “Ending Hunger in America: Hunger on College Campuses” roundtable.

Powers discussed hunger and poverty among college students and the role they play within the university setting, noting about one in three college students are food insecure. She also spoke about HSI and its efforts to leverage collective action among higher education institutions to promote adoption and advancement of best practices to address food and nutrition insecurity.

“Food insecurity in the college years not only has physical, social and emotional effects but also impacts retention, persistence and graduation in higher education,” Powers said. “Thus, many colleges and universities are developing innovative ways to measure, better understand and address college student food insecurity and other basic needs insecurities.”

Powers featured HSI’s partnership with the College of Human Sciences’ Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality Management in the discussion. Through the Alabama Campus Coalition for Basic Needs (ACCBN), a group of almost 25 colleges and universities in Alabama have been working to ensure student basic needs are met, thereby empowering all students to succeed in school, earn degrees and open doors to opportunity.

Experiences of food insecure students humanize statistics presented in contemporary research on the topic, Powers said. Even the most diligent student may struggle to meet requirements of their academic responsibilities when experiencing food insecurity.

“Millions of college students are dropping out of college not due to the lack of talent, but due to the lack of food,” Sara Goldrick-Rab said, president and founder of The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University, and witness during the U.S. House Rules Committee roundtable.

Powers echoed the sentiments saying food and other basic needs assistance from institutions of higher learning can essentially be a deciding factor if a degree is within reach.

“We all must work diligently to address the systemic inequities that populations face when applying, attending and persisting in college,” Powers said. “Food, housing, childcare, healthcare and other basic needs should be met for college students to fully realize the investment of a college education and a continued support for a vibrant and varied workforce.”

Committee Chairman James P. McGovern (D-MA) said now is the time to address food insecurity as colleges and universities begin this fall.

“Hunger impacts virtually every college campus in America today, regardless of whether it is located in a wealthy neighborhood or a small town,” McGovern said. “It is estimated that as many as 59 percent of college students will confront food insecurity at some point, threatening their ability to graduate and achieve their professional goals. As back-to-school season kicks off, now is the time for this important discussion as the committee works to end hunger and encourage the White House to hold a hunger conference.”

Additional discussion topics during the virtual events included the American Rescue Plan, the Build Back Better Agenda, food ministries, small holder farmers, faith organizations serving rural communities in high poverty counties, the Hunger Free Campus Bill, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and other legislation.

“The Hunger Solutions Institute at Auburn University urges each member of Congress to carefully examine legislation that may provide universities the opportunity to address the critical issue of college student food insecurity and appropriate funds accordingly,” Powers said. “The collaboration of financial and legislative support from the federal government and the prioritization of colleges and universities to this crucial issue will inevitably promote opportunities for all Americans, regardless of humble beginnings or unexpected obstacles, to become educated and engaged citizens.”

The “Bread for the World: Conversation with the White House in the Southeast Region” virtual event was moderated by Mariam Mengistie, executive director of Missions at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, and featured special guest Josh Dickson, senior advisor for the Office of Public Engagement at the White House, as well as other panelists—including Gary Tester, president of Catholic Charities of Central Florida; Frances Ford, executive director of Sowing Seeds of Hope; Ben Burkette, a farmer and advocate from Mississippi; and Rev. Frank Dew, a peace and justice advocate for Salem Presbytery.

Participants of the U.S. House Rules Committee “Ending Hunger in America: Hunger on College Campuses” roundtable included Joseph Ray, acting director of counseling and placement, Allen University; Sara Goldrick-Rab, president and founder, The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University; Ruben Canedo, director of strategic equity initiatives, University of California, Berkeley; and Rachel Sumekh, CEO and founder, Swipe Out Hunger.