In a random sample of UNC Chapel Hill undergraduates surveyed in October 2020, approximately 20%, or one in five, indicated they had experienced food insecurity within the last month.The percentages of students who identified as Black/African American or American Indian/Alaska Native indicating food insecurity were significantly higher (31.4% and 50%). A similar pattern was found in comparing indicators of food insecurity between students identifying as Straight/Heterosexual and students identifying as Bisexual, Gay, or Lesbian (15.8% and 30.7%).
Two additional studies have examined basic needs insecurity on our campus within the last few years. In 2019, Soldavini, Berner, and Da Silva reported 25% of undergraduates and 18% of graduate students indicating food insecurity within the last 12 months. Their analysis also found disparities when comparing black and brown students' experiences with those of their white counterparts. More recently, researchers at UNC's Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and Center for Community Capital conducted a series of focus groups with undergraduates at UNC Chapel Hill who receive financial aid. In a formative report, the team highlighted the following findings.Here are a few that may be helpful in thinking about how we allocate resources, advocate, and market and design educational opportunities and services across Student Affairs.
- Most students in need are aware of the resources available to assist them.
- Most know about the Carolina Cupboard, but most had not utilized it, citing perceptions of inconvenience.
- CAPS was perceived as well-marketed and useful for immediate needs and brief therapy. Students also recommended CAPS marketing take into account the fact that some students come from family backgrounds where seeking counseling and/or therapy for mental health is not supported.
- Students were aware of, but unclear as to the purpose of, the Student Emergency Fund.
- Many students expressed the need and desire for financial literacy education designed with low-income students in mind. Students were also less familiar with some of the existing resources and recommended a more unified approach to marketing.
The authors of the focus group study summarized three opportunities in regards to addressing basic needs insecurity on our campus. First, they highlight the need for expanding our understanding of interventions that are proving to be successful on other campuses. They also suggest better tracking of students who utilize services to meet basic needs, and assessing the impact of these services on key student success outcomes. And finally, they note the need to center historically marginalized identities by ensuring that support and services are accessible to and perceived as inclusive for students who may already feel a lack of fit or belonging within the campus culture.
In recognizing an increase in basic needs insecurity on college campuses, and the likely role of COVID-19 in further heightening this trend, what data do you have access to that might contribute further to our understanding of our students' needs? Are you sharing this information with colleagues in Student Affairs and across the institution? Are there strategies or mechanisms you have found particularly helpful in making support more accessible and inclusive? And finally, how might you contribute to advancing the conversation and efforts to address basic needs insecurity at Carolina?