USC Pays a High Price for Student Hunger
The glass windows of Wallis Annenberg Hall glistened as students settled into couches on each floor to study. Suddenly a girl darted toward a rubbish bin. She nervously glanced around before picking up a box of uneaten food, stealing a few bites. In shock, Jacquelyn Tan watched from the top floor. “It had never occurred to me before this that this was a problem on our campus,” she said, adding that she is now passionate about food insecurity at the University of Southern California.
According to the April report, “Still Hungry and Homeless in College,” more than one-third of college students are experiencing food insecurity, or hunger. The issue of student food insecurity is not new to this or any other campus. As a private university, USC has obtained a reputation for its privilege and wealth. However, this perception overlooks a large majority of the student population that struggles to pay for rent, food, and supplies on top of their $74,825 tuition.
“It can come in different forms. We can’t just assume that because you wear nice clothes or have a nice backpack you can afford everything. It can be an overnight situation where you were fine one day and then tomorrow you literally can’t afford food,” said Kamilah Lopez, a student food pantry volunteer, describing what food insecurity looks like at USC.
Food insecure students are also more likely to come from low-income backgrounds, and USC enrolls more than 4,000 low-income undergraduate students. According to the university, 36 percent of undergraduates receive financial assistance.
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion spearheaded a new initiative to help food insecure students. Student activism and a $20,000 donation resulted in the opening of a food pantry this year located in the Student Union on campus. While the food pantry provides a needed service for students who struggle to find affordable meals on or near campus, the pantry is only a temporary solution to a bigger problem.
Kamilah said sometimes students only visit the pantry for a week due to a temporary situation, while others consistently return. Many students are financially independent. If they are sick and miss work, they might be out of food for a week. Others, such as international students, are unable to work without a visa and are more dependent on the pantry. Many USC scholarships cover tuition and living, but few cover other costs, such as school supplies and meals.
Food insecurity on USC’s campus also results from the lack of affordable prices for most students. On campus, there are few places where students can purchase a meal for under $5.50. The food pantry posted a helpful list online of “meals” on campus in this price range that included the following: a bag of trail mix, side dishes of broccoli and corn, to-go soup or a half sandwich, rice and chow mien. Although cheap, these suggestions do not offer students a balanced or nutritional meal.
The new USC Village only exacerbates the issue, with high prices that many students can’t afford.
“We’re college students. We do work for our money and have a ton of loans, so I don’t know why they feel the average meal should be $15,” said Christopher Boyd, a sophomore resident at the USC Village.
On campus food stores, such as Seeds, Starbucks, and Nékter, preclude sales tax for students. On the contrary, the new USC Village has 14 food places, none of which offer USC students any discounts.
Alina Amkhavong, a frequent visitor and volunteer at the pantry, believes USC can do a lot more to improve its dining services. For example, UCLA has a program that allows left over dining money to carry into the next year.
USG Senator Jacquelyn Tan says it is hard to implement policy on food waste and food insecurity at USC in a one year term. Her past two suggestions for take-out boxes in the dining halls and student-donated token lunches were both shot down by the university.