More than a third of Ohio University students who come from financially insecure backgrounds report not feeling a sense of belonging, according to a recent survey discussed at the October Board of Trustees meeting.
During the first weeks of the Fall Semester, the university surveyed new students to assess their ease of transition into college life. The survey included questions about students’ current and lifetime experiences with food, housing and financial insecurity.
According to this year’s survey, 36 percent of students who identified as not coming from a financially secure background indicated they did not feel a sense of belonging at OU.
In response to the recent numbers, university administrators, faculty and staff have recently embarked on a initiative called Basic Needs OHIO, which aims to assess OU’s efforts to meet the basic needs of students facing food, shelter or financial insecurity.
“It’s not like we haven’t heard about poverty or great inequality,” Yeong-Hyun Kim, coordinator of the Wealth and Poverty theme in the College of Arts and Sciences said. “The term ‘basic needs’ is kind of new and trending to define the problems that our students have. It’s addressing their very basic right — the student right to certain needs.”
Up until this point, she said, the services have focused on the broader community. Now, members of the program hope to shift the focus to address the needs of students.
“They need to hear more about their neighbors and their friends,” Kim said. “Some of their basic needs are unmet.”
In the coming months, a series of committees will work to gather statistics on poverty, food and housing insecurity for the counties of each OU campus. The committees will also compile a list of resources for students, and seek external and internal funding opportunities, according to a university news release.
“The goal is to accomplish those tasks by mid-February and move on to the next stage of determining how the University can maximize its efforts to assist students in need,” University College Dean Elizabeth Sayrs said in the release.
During the October board meeting, the trustees discussed the university’s ability to donate uneaten food from dining halls. Although most excess food is composted, Culinary Services currently donates food to four different locations on campus and in Athens County.
Donating food, however, can present dining halls with some challenges. Athens Food Rescue, for example, cannot accept food donations containing meat or dairy.
Much of the food donated to food banks is nearing its expiration date, or fails to meet Culinary Services’ quality standards, but is still safe to eat.
“Food that is left over from each meal is evaluated by staff to determine if it can be safely saved and re-heated for a future meal, based on strict food handling practices,” university spokesman Jim Sabin said in an email. “Any leftover food that has been reheated once (it) is thrown away; it cannot be donated due to the risk of foodborne illness.”
Produce and perishable items that are leftover at the end of the semester are donated if they cannot be frozen or kept fresh until the next semester, Sabin said.
During the 2016-17 academic year, OU donated more than three tons of food to Athens Food Rescue, a volunteer group that accepts surplus food from local donor institutions.
“Helping to address the needs of students plays a key role in allowing students to focus on their academic efforts, as well as to help ensure their ability to return each year,” Sayrs said. “There’s no question that there are students in need.”