Be a part of the initiative devoted to ending college student hunger
By Emma Gran
During the weeklong Swipe Drive, anyone using a Wiscard to make a purchase through The Wisconsin Union or University Housing, will be able to donate $1 to directly support students facing food insecurity on campus.
Donated funds will support the Badger FARE program, UW–Madison’s established food security fund through the Dean of Students Office and Division of Continuing Studies that loads $75 directly onto a student’s Wiscard once an academic year for short-term assistance. Recipients of Badger FARE also receive follow up resources focused on long-term assistance and support.
Through a student-led collaboration between the Dean of Students Office, UW’s Food Justice Collective, Office of Student Financial Aid, Social Justice Hub, University Housing, and The Wisconsin Union, UW-Madison is now the first Swipe Out Hunger partner in the state of Wisconsin.
A student-led initiative
Similar to the origins of Swipe Out Hunger, UW’s Food Justice Collective, which was started by a group of college students at UCLA in 2010, UW–Madison students led the charge to partner with Swipe Out Hunger on their own campus.
Connor Raboine and Raven Hall, co-leads of organized a cohort of students to propose bringing Swipe Out Hunger to campus with the help of Dean of Students Christina Olstad, a strong advocate for food security.
During their meetings with Olstad, the students stressed the need for more resources, citing the numerous negative impacts of the stresses stemming from food insecurity.
For example, students experiencing food insecurity are 53% more likely to miss a class, 25% more likely to drop a class, and 81% more likely to not perform as well academically as they otherwise would have according to a national research project, “Hunger on Campus.”
Olstad, Raboine, Hall, and the group of students worked collaboratively with staff from the University Union, Office of Student Financial Aid, Recreation & Wellbeing, the Social Justice Hub, and University Housing to launch Swipe Out Hunger on campus this fall.
“For all these people to come together across campus to uplift this project and see it come to fruition, it still feels surreal,” said Raboine. “It’s empowering to know we as students can forge positive change about an issue we are really passionate about.”
Raboine, who will be graduating in December with degrees in human development and family studies and communication arts, has been involved in the food justice scene since he was introduced to student-led nonprofit Slow Food UW in his first year on campus.
Since then, Raboine coordinated a garden club at the Boys and Girls Club, helped lead Slow Food UW as co-executive director, and co-founded the UW Food Justice Collective with Hall. The collective connects leaders from eight campus food-related organizations with a goal of working together to increase awareness of food justice issues.
Like Raboine, Raven Hall, a senior studying nutritional sciences, food systems and global health, has been involved in food justice groups since her first year in Madison.
Growing up in Milwaukee, where redlining continues to shape racial segregation, Hall was able to see first-hand how discrimination plagues the city’s food systems.
Through an internship at REAP Food Group in her sophomore year, Hall gained hands-on experience in food supply chain management and met leaders of several food justice organizations in the community. She took her experience to the Campus Food Shed, which she later managed and is now co-president.
“One of the biggest ways to solve these issues is through human-to-human interaction and community support, initiatives, and involvement. Swipe Out Hunger is a great first step to advocate for other students and tackle food security on campus, but also to get our fellow classmates involved,” Hall said.
Hall is excited to see the impacts of Swipe Out Hunger on campus and hopes to keep this momentum going to continue creating and improving programs that will benefit students and work toward addressing the root issues that lead so many students to experience food insecurity.
“I’m grateful Raven and Connor wanted to bring this amazing opportunity to campus, and we’re excited to bring together so many campus partners including the Dean of Students Office, Social Justice Hub, Wisconsin Union, University Housing, and Recreation and Wellbeing,” Olstad said. “UW–Madison will be the first campus in Wisconsin connected to the national nonprofit organization, and our goal is to increase exposure on campus so that no Badger goes hungry.”
Student Hunger is a National Issue
Going hungry in college is an issue that plagues at least 1 in 3 college students from community colleges to public and private institutions throughout the United States.
According to a March 2020 study conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, 38% of students at four-year universities and 44% at two-year universities faced food insecurity — a lack of reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food — in the previous 30 days.
Swipe Out Hunger is the leading nonprofit devoted to ending college student hunger in the United States. By working collaboratively with university students and leadership, Swipe Out Hunger helps campuses develop innovative food security programs and practices that meet the needs of their students.
With over 130 partners across 40 states, Swipe Out Hunger has already served more than 2 million meals to college students facing food insecurity.
Fighting the stigma
Across the country and at UW, the cultural stigma and stereotypes associated with facing hunger on college campuses can discourage students from utilizing food pantries and resources.
Hall explained that the fear, shame, or embarrassment of being seen by their peers receiving free food can deter many students from accessing help when they need it.
According to Hall, the Campus Food Shed takes on an alternative food shed model to diminish the negative impacts of the stigma. Refrigerators are located in public spaces where students can easily grab food as needed with no barriers.
The food shed serves students of all different socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities experiencing a variety of challenges.
Within the Food Justice Collective, there are several other organizations working to destigmatize food insecurity and finding innovative ways to get food to the campus community in an inclusive manner.
WUD Cuisine hosts nutritional education and cooking workshops, while Slow Food UW focuses more on affordable, local food preparation and highlighting the cuisines of different cultures. The Food Recovery Network at Madison and the UW Frozen Meals Program incorporate food repurposing and distribution into their initiatives by recovering leftover food from dining halls.
FH King Students for Sustainable Agriculture provides food-growing education and food handouts while also advocating for food sustainability.
Through their involvement with food justice programs, Raboine and Hall have seen how people tend to have an inaccurate image of what food insecurity is and what it looks like.
“Both Raven and I have learned that there is no single story that defines food insecurity for college students. People experience it very differently and for a variety of reasons — it is important to recognize that and combat these common misconceptions,” Raboine said.
Dominant American culture tends to assume those seeking assistance for basic needs like nutritious food may lack a strong work ethic or spend money recklessly.
However, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, 56% percent of food insecure students reported having a paying job. Of those employed students, 38% worked 20 hours or more per week.
Normalizing food insecurity among college students, taking down unnecessary barriers, spreading awareness, and increasing access to assistance all remain important to achieving food justice on college campuses and in communities across the country.
Getting involved Locally
Beyond the Campus Food Shed and the Food Justice Collective, UW–Madison has many established food justice programs and organizations helping students get their next meal.
Most recently, the Dean of Students Office created Badger FARE, an immediate support structure that deposits $75 directly on a student’s Wiscard, allowing them to purchase food on campus. Students in need can access the funds once each academic year.
Additionally, The Open Seat student food pantry operated by the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) provides free 10-15 pound boxes of produce, dairy and dry good items to students. According to the ASM, the number of students visiting The Open Seat has increased every year.
Hall, who was hesitant to get involved in food justice initiatives due to the intimidating nature of the systemic problem, encourages students to help no matter their background or knowledge.
“I used to think I was not knowledgeable enough to help take on these issues, but I quickly realized that no one has the perfect answer, and we have to work together to address food security. Food justice is something we realize together, not apart,” Hall said.
To get involved in food justice efforts, check out opportunities for volunteering and involvement at the Food Justice Collective or visit Dane County Extension to learn about community food systems in the greater Madison community.
Help spread the word about the Swipe Drive this week and use #SwipeHungerUW to join the conversation on social media.
If you are in need of food support, please reach out to the Dean of Students Office, where they can connect you with the best resources to meet your needs.