The Hunger Studies Working Group is a group of staff, faculty, and students from across the UTK campus that have come together through their common interests related to food insecurity. The group represents a united effort to lessen problems faced by students and to raise awareness throughout the entire campus community about hunger – on a local to global scale – and its effects and causes. The group, working together with the various departments on campus and with community partners, will develop sustainable initiatives to lessen the effects of food insecurity in our entire campus community – including staff and students online and on-campus – through long-term initiatives and university policy.
The idea for this group was sparked by a conversation on global hunger issues and the idea that efforts to end hunger globally can begin with fostering the belief in students that community service is a lifelong goal and that awareness and understanding of a global issue can help solve local problems. The global issue of food insecurity, and food systems sustainability, will increasingly affect the well-being of individuals, families, and communities in Tennessee. To ensure success in developing solutions to the issue of food security, the working group will work to foster in our University’s students an increased knowledge base, innovation born of out-of-the classroom experiences, and a realistic perspective of their place in the world.
Further driving the initiative to increase awareness of the global problem of hunger is a recent study about food security across the University of Tennessee System that showed a high rate of food insecurity, which is defined as the “inability to access adequate and nutritious food,” on the Knoxville campus (32%). While the University of Tennessee, Knoxville had begun to address these problems through programs including supporting a campus food pantries, a meal swipe donation program, a campus community garden, and a smartphone app to alert students when there is extra food available for free from events, these programs and services are stop-gap measures for emergency food assistance, and do not address the issue of food insecurity as something to be resolved long-term. Nor do these efforts address the upstream drivers of food insecurity, which may also affect other issues such as students’ access to housing, academic achievement, retention, and quality of life.
Practically, the Hunger Studies Working Group aims to increase awareness of food insecurity first through a themed year of programming on food insecurity including events and activities on UTK’s campus as well as establishing links to UTMartin and UTChatanooga. This programming will engage students in looking at the issue of food insecurity on campus and on a global scale. The themed-year events possibly will include research workshops and seminars, alternative spring break opportunities, campus forums, collective meal opportunities, campuscommunity book reading and seminar, activities focused on World Food Day, food insecurity focused activities during International Education Week tied into Thanksgiving, activities to support the Hunger and Homelessness Summit held by the Office of the Dean of Students in November, and campus-community cooking demonstrations (led by the Culinary Institute).
Longer-term aspects of this initiative will include development of a new program abroad opportunity with a multi-disciplinary focus that will draw students from across academic departments to problem solve around food insecurity and hunger. The initiative will also provide some support to a sustained service learning opportunity that explores food insecurity and food systems at UTK. Academically, a goal of the initiative is to see the development and implementation of a minor or concentration in global hunger studies. Finally, as mentioned above, the working group will strive to develop and support the implementation of university policies that address the food insecurity issues among our students.
This increased awareness of a major global issue, the world-class education provided by the University of Tennessee will produce graduates who are not only technically competent, but also globally aware and socially engaged.
Citation: Hagedorn, R., McArthur, L., Hood, L., Berner, M., Anderson Steeves, E., Connell, C., … Olfert, M. (2019). Expenditure, Coping, and Academic Behaviors among Food-Insecure College Students at 10 Higher Education
Institutes in the Appalachian and Southeastern Regions. Current Developments in Nutrition, 3(6), nzz058. https://doi.org/10.1093/cdn/nzz058.