By Katherine Conway-Turner
When most people think of the challenges of college, several things spring to mind. The challenge of paying for tuition may be their first thought. Indeed, many students have struggled with paying their tuition costs; however, through the generosity of individual donors, Say Yes Buffalo, Pell and TAP grants, and now the Excelsior Scholarship, this gap is covered for most students struggling to pay tuition fees. Other challenges that may come to mind are the cost of books and fees, living expenses, and transportation. These are also stressors for students of modest means.
What does not often come to mind is food. Yet that basic commodity is essential for students to live and definitely necessary for them to study, concentrate, and take full advantage of the college education unfolding before them. It is estimated that one in five college students experiences food insecurity. When communities ponder food insecurity, they often think about the needs of preschool or school-age children who do not have sufficient or nutritious food available. These are troublesome issues during critical times of physical and intellectual development, but food insecurity does not end when a student graduates from high school.
At Buffalo State, we have known for many years that some college students struggle with the challenge of food insecurity. This is an issue that we have been addressing for almost two decades. The campus’s Milligan’s Food Pantry, established in 2000, now serves nearly 400 students each year.
Most of us have experienced hunger for at least brief periods of time. Symptoms vary, but it is common to feel fatigued, sluggish, achy, or shaky. These symptoms are certainly not conducive to the learning process. We have recognized these symptoms in some of our students. Through the food pantry, we make it as easy as possible for our students to obtain nutritious groceries that can sustain their energy to complete their work—including offering anonymous online food orders.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s “No Student Goes Hungry” proposal, which calls on all SUNY and CUNY schools to respond to the problem of student hunger by developing a food pantry, is a good plan. Supporting every student who is willing to work hard and devote him or herself to a path that results in a degree and a career is a worthy goal; therefore, it is imperative that we not only supply the food necessary to sustain that work, but also remove the shame and stigma of not being able to afford food in the first place. At Buffalo State, we are deeply appreciative of the governor’s new proposal and the State of New York’s recognition that having adequate food is a right that all citizens are entitled to and willing to support.
Katherine Conway-Turner is the ninth president of SUNY Buffalo State.