It was in late May that the president of Oregon State University, Ed Ray, addressed the OSU community about food insecurity and homelessness on campus. It seems as though he understands full well that students are suffering on OSU’s campus when he stated that: “Of the nearly 2,800 OSU students who applied for food assistance and food vouchers in the 2017-18 academic year, 81% met the federal definition of food insecurity.”
This, of course, isn't unique to OSU. In that same letter, Ray cited a study when he stated that: “43% of college students surveyed reported that they felt food insecure in the past 30 days” (although the difference is marginal, the correct figure from that study was 45%).
Hunger isn’t the only problem students are facing at OSU; there are also homeless students. Ray stated in his letter that “158 reported sleeping in a tent, car or homeless shelter in the previous 12 months” — a truly appalling number.
One question we should be asking ourselves is, “What is the OSU administration doing about this?” The short answer is very little, though let’s look into it. The letter did bring up a few objectives that Ray had for the school, but most of them were half-measures like leveraging “university financial aid dollars with food assistance programs such as Mealbux, which provides eligible students with a meal card to use on campus.” After speaking to the Human Services Resource Center about how much money students are actually receiving, it turns out this program is quite miserly — they don’t provide enough money to keep students from going hungry.
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One objective that Ray laid out that could be beneficial was assigning Vice Provost Dan Larson to “create a task force in fall term 2019 made up of university administrators, faculty, student government leaders in Corvallis and Bend, students who served through our assistance programs, UHDS and financial aid representatives, and other university partners to develop additional action plans for implementation in 2020.” What would make it beneficial is if the students were actually allowed to play an active role in developing action plans (after all, they’re the ones that are suffering).
When it comes to solutions to food insecurity on campus, perhaps the university could take some direction from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which outlined some steps universities could take, such as “increase grants and scholarships to cover unlimited meal plans,” “make it easy for students to share their meal points” and “keep dining halls open and accessible for food-insecure students during breaks.” These solutions alone would help improve the fact that only 58.3% of OSU undergraduates feel as though the university is providing them with enough financial support to succeed, according to the most recent figures from a 2017 survey at OSU.
There was another important issue that Ray briefly mentioned but then offered no solution to: homeless students. As was already mentioned, 158 students “reported sleeping in a tent, car or homeless shelter in the previous 12 months.” That’s a very serious issue that’s seldom discussed. The solution is straightforward: house them.
If they’re looking for a model to go off of, they need look no further than Salem. In 2018 it was reported that Raul Marquez, then a student at McKay High School, pitched a proposal to house homeless students at a United Way meeting and left that meeting with a $100,000 grant. The state Legislature also granted him $200,000 for the shelter he proposed. His proposal also received $112,000 from individual donors, businesses, and organizations. The shelter was in operation later that year and is still up and running to this day.
This is something that OSU administration officials are more than capable of doing. The university’s administration needs to be taking a more active role in assisting students who are suffering from food insecurity and homelessness.
Diego Leon Patino is junior studying public health at Oregon State University.