According to the 2015 Minnesota College Health Behaviors Survey, 9.6% of Carleton College students responded “often or sometimes true” to the statement “within the past twelve months I worried whether my food would run out before I got money to buy more.” Swipe Out Hunger was established by students in 2017 in an attempt to combat food insecurity on campus, but it has been heavily criticized due to its inaccessibility and relatively little help to students who experience food insecurity on campus; it is unlikely that the 2015 number has dropped significantly. At a college with bountiful resources, there are still students who struggle to acquire adequate food.
According to Dean Livingston, “We get a couple of dozen or so students who share food insecurity concerns during the academic year. For those students, we provide food vouchers for them to go to the dining hall.” But accessing these vouchers is not necessarily a straightforward process. Students can only access the swipes through the Emergency Fund, which comes with some contingencies — like accepting all student loans. Aside from these barriers, there is shame associated with food insecurity and students are not always comfortable with asking for help in this way. Even when students want to ask for help, they don’t always know where to go. An anonymous student described their personal experience with food insecurity and noted the lack of public knowledge on how to utilize Swipe Out Hunger or the Emergency Fund in order to acquire meal swipes: “As a peer leader, sometimes I use the office I work in after-hours to grab snacks I know we have, but when I was a first-year and didn’t know that these places existed or had access to them, I would have to starve myself until the next day.” The student elaborated, “I also think that programs like Swipe Out Hunger are just waiting for the students themselves to reach out, which we do not know about doing and weren’t told to do at all.”
Arthur Onwumere ’24 has also struggled with food insecurity on campus and isn’t surprised that it’s a problem. “When you have students putting every dollar they make from their minimum wage campus jobs towards their outstanding balance to financial aid, of course you’re going to find students who choose to skip a meal.” Onwumere went off the meal plan because it is cheaper to be off-board, but he says that he still “finds it difficult to be able to afford groceries every single term at Carleton.” Onwumere describes being told to fill out the Emergency Funding form to receive money for groceries but expresses frustration at this advice: “I know it wouldn’t have been successful to request money for groceries every two weeks, there’s 10 weeks in a term — that’s five times I would ask for money, and for what? After two requests, you don’t receive full funding for any more requests for the rest of the term.” When you request money from the Emergency Funding Form, you can only receive the full amount of your request twice. After that, the money received by the requesting student will be reduced to half of the request.
Dean Livingston also listed a few other resources available to food insecure students, like the Carleton Cupboard, meals provided by various departments and Dacie Moses brunch on Sundays. These resources are valuable, but the anonymous student commented on what they believe could be of even more value: “I think that low-income students of color like myself … would rather have the monetary help of being able to purchase things like food items for myself.” They added that “I grew up with an EBT card, and just the act of my family being able to pick our food, without the system assuming what we needed, helped us survive.”
Even with the Mutual Aid Fund, the Emergency Fund and other campus initiatives aimed to remedy food insecurity on campus, it remains a struggle for many students to access consistent, adequate nutrition.