Campus must continue to improve students’ access to basic needs

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Daily Californian – By Ruben Canedo

UC Berkeley has officially opened a campus Basic Needs Center. This monumental occasion is a celebration of students, staff, faculty, administrators, local community members and statewide community members who all came together to make it happen.

Despite these advancements, there were two key challenges that had to be overcome in order to open our center: moving from blame to understanding and moving from individual to community efforts. It is critical that UC Berkeley continue to improve the economic, food and housing — basic needs — experiences of our community, especially for community members with disproportionately higher rates of challenges.

As the 2008 economic recession hit, the number of students asking for help to pay for food and housing dramatically increased. After campus and systemwide advocacy, a question on economic insecurity and its relationship to skipping meals was added to the 2010 UC Undergraduate Experience Survey, or UCUES.

The 2010 UCUES results confirmed that 7 percent of students self-reported having to “often” skip meals, and 5 percent reported having to “very often” skip meals in order to save money. This data set validated at a systemic level what student leaders, advisers and health providers had already realized for a long time.

The results made some community members furious; others were shocked, and some even refused to believe the results, actively questioning the validity of the data. Despite the variance in community reactions, there was one consistent sentiment: Many people felt that financial aid staff members were not doing enough to combat this problem. Students themselves, along with staff, faculty and administrators looked to the financial aid office for an explanation as to why students were skipping meals.

After digging deeper into the UC Berkeley financial aid system, it became clear that food insecurity was a symptom of a much larger systemic crisis. Today, the majority of states have not recuperated their state dollars for public higher education to prerecession levels. The Pell Grant, which is our federal government’s largest investment to support the access, affordability and completion of higher education, is at a four-decade purchasing power low. Unfortunately, funding within California has not been able to support public higher education equitably to sustain — much less increase — funding for its public higher education system.

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