“Listen, kid, it’s all part of building character. The struggle will make you a better person. Stronger, more appreciative.”
Sound familiar? It’s lovely, isn’t it, that we can call something as pernicious as starvation “character building”?
The “back in my day” proposition is feeding the stereotype of the struggling college student who must ingest ungodly amounts of sodium in order to get by, and only marginally at best. But where this stereotype was once supported by a culture of affordable tuition, the cost of higher education has skyrocketed over the past 30 years and the poverty rate amongst nontraditional students — those who do not have parental support and make up nearly half the student population — is roughly 52 percnet.
When we first sat down to write this article we thought to ourselves, how do we get people to care about starving college students when the value of higher education is collapsing? When the paradoxes are either ignored or unrecognized?
The policy of today emphasizes vocational jobs, despite the fact that advances in technology are projected to require fewer workers, with the potential of cutting employment in half. As technology gains its foothold on factory work, citizens find themselves pushed into the service sector, which is on the path toward mechanization as well.
The truth is, nearly half the students at MSU Billings are food insecure. This means that they are worrying about where their next meal is going to come from, instead of focusing on their degree as they should be. We have met with many students who can feed themselves for the first half of the month, but then must scrounge for food for the next two weeks.
Before you write this off as fake news, look at the statistics. Look at the increasing price of college tuition, the insurmountable stockpile of debt, and the number of students who are homeless and without food.
Wisconsin Hope Labs did a survey in 2015 of almost 3800 students at 34 community and four-year colleges across 12 states. The results: “48% of respondents reported food insecurity in the previous 30 days, 22% of respondents had the very lowest levels of food security, and 13 percent of students at community colleges are homeless.”
Often food insecurity and housing insecurity are synonymous. With the drastic gap between students’ average income and the price of attending college, students must choose between food and shelter, food and books, and so on. They are literally choosing between education and survival.
In order to meet their food needs, many students end up dropping a class in order to take on a second job, which extends the number of semesters they must enroll in and puts them even further into debt.
We are seeking the community’s involvement in addressing the issue of food insecurity on MSU Billings campus and ensuring students’ success. The Yellowjacket Emergency Pantry is still a new entity and relatively sparse, as it currently serves as an emergency resource. Students are allowed three visits per semester and receive foods based on family size.
The pantry is donation-driven and requires support from the community. Our main goal is to increase the amount of food available to students. The pantry is located in the Student Union Building at MSU Billings, Room 222, which is the Office of Community Involvement.
Any and all donations can be dropped off during regular business hours, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We would like you to help us evolve from an emergency service to a regular campus resource. By helping us stock up on foods and hygiene products, we can assist students in taking the right steps toward lifting themselves out of poverty.
Jennifer Downing is an organizational communications major and Haley Barthuly is a political science major at MSU Billings. They both write for the school newspaper and are currently taking their Honors Capstone: Hunger and Food Security.