Students, officials work together in new group to tackle food insecurity

Media Credit: Donna Armstrong | Contributing Photo Editor

Saru Duckworth, the president of The Store, Student Association President Ashley Le, Izzy Moody, the SA’s vice president for sustainability, and Sage Wylie, a Food Institute fellow, all serve on the task force.

Updated: Nov. 5, 2018 at 12:55 p.m.

Students launched a task force last week to gauge the prevalence of food insecurity on campus.

The task force, comprised of students, faculty, staff and administrators, convened for the first time Wednesday to discuss how to tackle food insecurity on campus and laid plans for research into students’ spending habits and partnerships with dining vendors. Students said the group will issue a survey by the end of the semester asking students how often they load extra money onto their GWorld or run out of money, which will help them produce a set of recommendations on how to curb food insecurity.

Student Association President Ashley Le said she originally wanted to form the group over the summer after realizing that several food-based organizations, like the GW Food Policy Institute, which conducts research on food and sustainability, and The Store, GW’s food pantry, often do not convene to discuss food insecurity.

“The conversation about food insecurity began way too long ago without getting a lot of attention from the administration, and I think that the lack of focus did not help students,” Le said. “I hope the food insecurity task force will just place a bigger focus on this issue at GW, how prevalent it is.”

She said student leaders in the task force will work with the Office of Institutional Research to send out a survey to the student body by the end of the semester measuring student sentiments on dining affordability. The survey will ask questions like how students use their GWorld daily for items like laundry, food and printing, she said.

Combating food insecurity was listed as one of Le’s priorities for the year.

She added that the group will compile a report of recommendations by early next semester that will “propose tangible actions” to combat food insecurity. She said the task force will give the recommendations to administrators and develop a plan for student leaders to advocate for low-cost meal options.

At the group’s first meeting Wednesday, about 12 students, faculty and officials – like Bridgette Behling, the director of community support and leadership, and Brittany Abraham, the program coordinator for special operations at the Center for Student Engagement, who help manage The Store – attended the meeting, Le said.

Cissy Petty, the dean of the student experience, Michael Tapscott, the director of the Multicultural Student Services Center and members of the Nashman Center for Student Engagement and Public Service are also part of the task force, she said. The Nashman Center hosts the Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week every November.

Tapscott said his interest in the committee involves helping members of the task force develop an “easy, timely and affordable” food service that meets each student’s “cultural and spiritual needs.” He said he wants students to spend time enjoying food that complements students’ family and cultural traditions.

“I would like to see the strengths of the GW community enhanced by the opportunities that come with the joy, memories and comfort that is associated with the best form of delivery for good, healthy food,” Tapscott said in an email.

Before officially launching the task force, SA leaders and leaders of The Store hosted a town hall on food insecurity last month where students voiced concerns about running out of dining cash and a lack of healthy options on GWorld.

Food insecurity has been an increasing concern on campus since the University switched to an open dining plan two years ago. In response to student complaints about running out of GWorld dollars early in the semester, officials upped the amount of dining dollars on students’ GWorld cards in February.

“We wanted to make sure we know what we’re doing, and we’re just students, sometimes we don’t have enough experience, so we wanted to make sure that faculty are involved,” Le, the SA president, said.

Izzy Moody, the SA’s vice president for sustainability who worked with Le over the summer to outline the task force, said the group will discuss topics like how food insecurity affects different student groups, like first-generation students, and how many healthy and cheap food vendors are currently available on campus.

“The collective student voice demanding recognition of these issues and changes in our campus food landscape is also a major strength of the body and will continue to drive its direction,” Moody said in an email.

Sage Wylie, a former Food Institute fellow and member of the task force, said the group discussed how to define food insecurity at the University by considering factors like nutrition and affordability. She said the group currently uses the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s definition: “reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.”

Wylie contributed to a Food Institute report released in January that found that GW’s dining program set “students up to fail.”

“Right now, students will be working towards setting the foundation for the research which will take place in the future,” she said in an email.

Saru Duckworth, the president of The Store, said the student members will mainly take on the “nitty-gritty work” of conducting research on how many students run out of GWorld dollars before the semester ends and how much money they add to their account on average each semester.

She added that the data collected from the survey will be used to draft recommendations for improvements to dining at GW, like potentially expanding GW’s partnership with SAGE Dining Services, which operates the dining hall on the Mount Vernon Campus, to also serve on the Foggy Bottom Campus.

Officials closed Foggy Bottom’s only dining hall, J Street, in 2016 in favor of an open dining system in which students can spend GWorld at any dining partner.

“We really want to make sure that any results or any action items that come from this are really coming from the data that we see, so we don’t know yet because we don’t have that data,” she said.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Sage Wylie is a Food Institute fellow. She is a former fellow. We regret this error.

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