We often talk about how food insecurity affects people of various ages and socioeconomic levels. Much research has been done to study the impact on school aged children, families and seniors, but one group often gets overlooked; college-aged teens and young adults. With so much focus on paying for college, unfortunately the issue of food insecurity can sometimes get pushed to the side. Dr. Keith Whitfield, Provost and Sr. Vice President for Academic Affairs at Wayne State University and a Gleaners board member, is changing the conversation.
“College just doesn’t happen,” Dr. Whitfield says. “Successful College students come from a pipeline. If you don’t start by making sure they are properly nourished in 3rd grade, 6th grade, 9th grade and 12th grade, when they come to us, it’s an even bigger struggle.”
Dr. Whitfield has a passion for studying and trying to improve food insecurity. It’s his job to help students succeed and making sure they are well nourished is critical to that success.
“Trying to balance real life with that aspiration of attending college can be difficult,” Dr. Whitfield said. “Sometimes, what ends up getting caught between the cracks is actually being able to feed yourself well.”
He says the majority of Wayne State students come from within a 100-mile radius around the city of Detroit. Therefore, looking at the needs within those communities can help predict the needs of the overall student population.
“What we are seeing in higher education is that what used to be the ‘typical’ college going student, an 18-year-old fresh out of high school, is not the typical anymore,” Dr. Whitfield said. “The person who used to be the nontraditional student is now the traditional student. Their lives are far more complicated.”
Wayne State has made one of the university’s missions to address food insecurity, in part, by starting a student-run food pantry on campus called ‘The W.’ For two years now, they’ve operated the pantry in partnership with Gleaners, offering a variety of food to students in need. To date we’ve helped approximately 1,300 students and distributed more than 17,000 pounds of food.
“The W is open to all of our students and they’re allowed to come once every two weeks,” Dr. Whitfield explains.
He says this effort has helped to increase the sense of community on campus and reduce the stigma for those who need help. WSU has also developed a student success mission that encompasses all parts of wellness including stress management, physical fitness, financial wellness and making sure students have access to be sufficiently nourished so that they can succeed.
“Being connected with Gleaners has been something that has taught me so much and it’s helped us to take some of those lessons and apply them here on campus,” Dr. Whitfield says. “It makes me feel good that we’re making a concerted effort to meet the needs of students in this very important way.”