In Hunger to Learn Soledad O’Brien Shows the Struggle College Students are facing in being able to afford food
In the documentary, Lehman College, which is part of the City University of New York shows the story of students who are struggling to afford food in the pandemic. The documentary also shows the struggles of university students in the life decisions that they have made and being able to come to college and pursue the dreams that they sit out for themselves. Juggling work, education and family is a true trial for the students in the documentary. Americans across the country are facing unprecedented hunger struggles and aren't able to feed their families as millions face unemployment and they have to make the hard decision about how they're going to feed their families. Congress isn't keen on doing anything in terms of bailing out desperate Americans until after the election in November
Given the pandemic the problems that have already existed in America have been exacerbated during the pandemic. Students who used to get support from their universities in terms of jobs and food assistance now face the prospect of going hungry and not having a full meal. The economic downturn that has resulted as a result of coronavirus is now tasking municipalities with a difficult decision of laying off staff and also putting the burden on public universities to fund their own programs without the state intervening. Millions of Americans across the country are also facing eviction from their homes, a hyper polarized Congress that isn't determined to deal with the issues that our country is facing whether it is leaving these issues until the election goes the way that they want it to go all the while making sure that Americans go hungry another night or go without a roof for another night. The steaks have never been higher in this time period in American history. The climate disaster in the form of fires, is making the skies above San Francisco orange and hurricane season is off to a very dangerous start as there is more than three storms currently developing in the Atlantic ocean. The impact of the fires has even reached our Canadian neighbors who are seeing their skies them and see the real time impact of American neglect of climate and what it poses for our future generations.
If politicians were more offended at Greta Thunberg for being outspoken about climate change then they need to start paying attention to what she was actually warning about. We all should be yelling at politicians at this point because they collect a salary at the expense of the tax pair but do nothing to help us mitigate the impact of climate disasters that are accelerating in force and damage.
I can go on about the things that you're already seeing in the headlines and in the news but one thing is for sure we are failing the American people to a very dangerous extent. The news only continues to get grimmer, the rich continue to make their profits and the average person continues to believe less in the Democratic process, because both parties promised us things they haven’t delivered. There have been several instances in which we have seen the attempts of the Trump administration to cheat their way to reelection, whether its through strict voter signatures requirements or defunding the United States Postal Service , so that they can delay the collection of absentee ballot applications and delay the delivery of time sensitive ballots to voters.
Meanwhile they are also detain immigrants at the border, violates the human rights of immigrant women by removing their uterus according to the Government Accountability Project.
Peter Thiel of Facebook is even empowering white supremacy through his associations with the Trump administration and the many acts of kindness he does to ensure another re-election.
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Students Face Difficult Decisions
Senator Bernie Sanders has this saying of his that I continue to refer back to when I hope for any rational debate in American politics. He says:
“The rich and large corporations get richer, the CEOs earn huge compensation packages, and when things get bad, don’t worry; Uncle Sam and the American taxpayers are here to bail you out. But when you are in trouble, well, we just can’t afford to help you, if you are in the working class or middle class of this country.”
― Bernie Sanders, The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class
I was in my sophomore year of college when Bernie Sanders ran for president of United States in 2016. Now granted he didn't win but he left behind an important legacy both times he ran and inspired a generation of activists to change the way the government works. The fact that he ran twice has to tell you how many times he felt like he needed to continue to hit refresh on our collective conscious in order to make sure that we continue to pay attention to the issues in American politics and that when he's gone someone else is going to stick up for the values that he had, like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a whole generation of representatives in Congress who will be fighting for you. In a country that is so rich that is so full of wealth it is only abysmal that college students and young children in public schools. If you've been to college you know how much energy and stamina it takes to make sure you can perform at your best weather is academically or athletically.
As I have written previously about the CUNY Board of Trustees, the fact of the matter is is that they will continue to raise tuition unabatedly and they will not wait for a second to hear you out anymore. The state has continually divested responsibility in higher education and the students are facing the impact of having a dream and daring to pursue an education. Adjuncts have been laid off, services have been cut, and college support is not meeting expectations for how much tuition is being charged. Earlier in the summer there was another attempt to dismantle Kingsborough community college community garden where students could get freshly sourced vegetables and fresh produce from the farm. While the City University of New York initially provided support via food pantries for students it doesn't seem like that same support will show up in the fall semester.
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According to an article from the Brooklyn Eagle, the KCC urban farm:
Kingsborough’s Urban Farm, where the students spent the five-week course, is an organic site where students, faculty and community residents explore the intersection between sustainable farming, health and urban development. The harvested produce is used in college classrooms and labs and in the kitchens of the college’s Culinary Arts program.
Students gain hands-on lab experience by working with farm staff and professors to research and measure nutrients in the soil and in plants by using specialized testing kits to collect and analyze the data.
But even this farm was in harms way this summer. According to the group Free CUNY (which released it’s own set of demands for the Chancellor of CUNY to meet in addressing the fallout from COVID & the high price of education in general), the impending cuts to university infrastructure would be acutely felt at the farm, which serves as another lifeline.
In a New York Times article about hunger faced by college students, Kaya Laterman writes:
A senior at Lehman College in the Bronx dreams of starting her day with breakfast. An undergraduate at New York University said he has been so delirious from hunger, he’s caught himself walking down the street not realizing where he’s going. A health sciences student at Stony Brook University on Long Island describes “poverty naps,” where she decides to go to sleep rather than deal with her hunger pangs.
These are all examples of food insecurity, the state of having limited or uncertain access to food. Stories about college hunger have been largely anecdotal, cemented by ramen and macaroni and cheese jokes. But recent data indicate the problem is more serious and widespread, affecting almost half of the student population at community and public colleges.
Kassandra Montes, a senior at Lehman College, is one of them. She unexpectedly had to take out a $5,000 loan this year in order to graduate, she said. Living in a Harlem homeless shelter as she attends classes, Ms. Montes also works two part-time jobs and budgets only $15 per week for food. She uses the campus food pantry to get most of her groceries and usually skips breakfast in order to make sure that her 4-year-old son is eating regularly.
“I feel like I’m slowly sinking as I’m trying to grow,” she said.
Although the college food-pantry movement is well underway, as there are now over 700 members at the College and University Food Bank Alliance, efforts have recently expanded to include redistributing leftover food from dining halls and catered events, making students eligible for food stamps and other benefits, and perhaps most important, changing national and state education funding to cover living expenses, not just tuition.
They go on to note that:
45 percent of student respondents from over 100 institutions said they had been food insecure in the past 30 days. In New York, the nonprofit found that among City University of New York (CUNY) students, 48 percent had been food insecure in the past 30 days.
This article is only from 2019. So before the pandemic occured. Can you even begin to imagine what college students are going through right now as they try to navigate getting their degrees in graduating on time while dealing with hunger and food insecurity. When the pandemic initially hit the New York city Council was very proactive in making sure that City University of New York students had food available to them.
Back in March of 2020, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez provided students with a lifeline that was set for them to be able to afford their food. They provided students with $400 to spend on food.
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In the same NYT article, Nicholas Freudenberg, a distinguished professor at CUNY’s Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy said that
The movement has largely focused on community and state colleges, as there are more low-income students who attend them. Hunger can force students to drop out of school to work more, which inhibits academic success. Another ramification is an increase in student loans to cover living expenses, Dr. Goldrick-Rab said. (National student debt now totals about $1.5 trillion.)
Before the pandemic, multiple groups online for different campuses would publish a ‘free food guide’ to let students know which events on campus would have free food available for them to eat but also to learn about new concepts and ideas while doing that. During my own college experience I used to see a lot of students come into events and take food essentially which is not a bad thing and it certainly is better than that food going to waste and not being eaten. Students would often map out the events with food to make sure they can ‘meal plan’ and make it a goal to be at the event.
CUNY has discovered that signing up students for SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has helped. In 2009, the school system brought in Single Stop USA, a nonprofit that connects individuals with social services. Since then, the nonprofit and other partners have served over 122,000 CUNY students, each of whom have received about $3,000 worth of benefits each year, said Sarah Crawford, the nonprofit’s national education director.
Many states, including New York, have work requirements to get SNAP, but such a requirement should be waived if the recipient is a student, Ms. Crawford argued. In addition, many advocates say that SNAP benefits should be redeemable at dining halls and stores on campus.
Niasia Starling, a 22-year-old student at Nassau Community College, part of the State University of New York system, recently had her SNAP benefits terminated because she stopped working to take care of an ill parent. — Kaya Laterman for the New York Times
Increases in COVID cases and in Higher Education Tuition
The fact that we're in the middle of pandemic has not deterred some universities from raising their tuition to make up for the fact that they have to rearrange things to accommodate the Covid virus and to make sure that students can continue to learn while having distance and adhering to public safety measures.
According to the city, the virus has not deterred the city University of New York from increasing its price is for students even as most of struggling with common issues such as being able to make the rent payments being able to afford food and taking care of their children while being a student themselves and also doing a job. When enrolling for the fall semester of 2020, students noticed that the City University of New York is still charging the student activity fee which typically funds activities that are done on campus but given the remote learning students are questioning why they have to pay that and trying to understand the issues that students already are facing in terms of being to afford anything at this point.
McElrone has been asking CUNY officials since May why they are still assessing the fee — and she said she still hasn’t received an answer.
When THE CITY asked, Frank Sobrino, a CUNY spokesperson, said the student activity fee funds a range of programs and services — “counseling and other health services, child care, career services, veterans services, disability programs, athletic programs, student government and student newspapers, among other activities.”
McElrone is president of the Lehman chapter of the National Student Nurses Association and noted that her group’s funding has been frozen since the spring. The group has been unable to host events, not even guest speakers on Zoom, she said.
She doesn’t see CUNY’s need to collect the fees if groups like hers aren’t benefiting.
“What I’m saying is clubs haven’t been able to be active, and as far as I know, there are no student activities,” she said.
She added that, to students who’ve lost their jobs and are struggling with food and housing insecurity, “that’s a significant amount of money, particularly if it’s going to nothing in particular.”
One thing is for sure that our government is not meeting our expectations and then if we don't tax the rich we won't be able to meet our operating expenses as a state but will also be punishing working class people we're just trying to make it a New York State. We need to show up for those that need our advocacy and that need to be told that they will be able to navigate Covid and that we're on their side. The governor needs to act NOW.
Activists Step Up
Across the city of New York community fridges have been showing up in brightly colored and visibly outside of stores and where community members have been putting food that is for the community and for anyone experiencing a hunger. In New York City the hunger crisis is exponentially large and goes beyond college students as well. An immigrant communities businesses have been going out of service and there doesn't seem to be any hope that the city can rebound with small businesses. Which is really worrying because immigrant businesses are the lifeblood of New York City.
These community fridges are placed strategically in different neighborhoods so that people can come by and grab the food that they need in order to make sure that they have their needs met. No one should have to decide between keeping on the lights in their homes or being able to buy food to stay alive. Activists in communities across New York City have been filling in the gap's where politicians have left us behind. Now with the New York City Council elections next year and the Mayoralty up for election as well there seems to be much more hope that we can elect a City Council that will look out for the interests of every day New Yorkers and to divert money from over policing into communities where we actually need the support in order to keep people flourishing.
Hopefully then we can have a path forward in which every New Yorker has a chance to succeed and the economic barriers do not prevent them from being able to meet their human needs.
You can watch the documentary here.