No one should have to worry about where their next meal will come from or skip meals because they can’t afford to eat — certainly not at a university with abundant resources which they pay to attend. 

Over the past few weeks, signs have gone up around campus, and emails have gone out, encouraging students to donate their extra guest meal swipes to help Brandeis students facing food insecurity as part of the Swipe Out Hunger program. For the second semester in a row, the meal swipe drive gives students the opportunity to donate up to five guest swipes over an approximate two-week period, which students experiencing food insecurity can then request through an online form over the course of the semester. While this board fully supports this and any efforts to address hunger on this campus, the University’s emphasis on this specific program raises questions and concerns among this board about Brandeis’ overall response, or lack thereof, to food insecurity among its student body. 

According to Swipe Out Hunger, the national nonprofit organization that Brandeis has partnered with for the swipe drive, one in three college students faces food insecurity nationwide. The problem is certainly present on our campus. A 2017 report by the organization Challah for Hunger found that Brandeis was among the colleges at which school administrators said “food insecurity was a problem on their campus” and that “there is no official campus-wide policy to address food insecurity.” 

Undergraduate and graduate students alike face hunger at Brandeis. In 2021, former Senior Coordinator of Graduate Student Affairs Steve Weglinski told The Greater Boston Food Bank that an estimated 50% of Brandeis graduate students struggle greatly with food and housing costs and told the Justice earlier that year that 10-12% of the overall student population have been identified as food insecure. 

Being a college student comes with an array of responsibilities and challenges; as students, we are expected to balance these while constantly thinking and performing at our highest capabilities. Maintaining the level of effort needed to succeed at an institution like Brandeis isn’t possible if students are being deprived of the proper amount of food or important nutrients, or stressing about how to afford to eat that week. 

The University is clearly aware that food insecurity is an issue among its student body; this board feels that addressing this issue by whatever means necessary to make sure that all students are well-fed should be Brandeis’ top priority. 

We are grateful for the efforts of various groups and departments to address hunger on our campus, such as the swipe drive and the FRESH Pantry in the Usdan Game Room. Yet we are disappointed that the University does not have a more comprehensive, reliable system to ensure that all students are able to access meals both on and off campus. The swipe drive asks students to take on the responsibility of supporting those of us facing food insecurity. While Brandeis students have shown themselves time and time again to be more than willing to support fellow students in need, this board feels that the University should be using its money to address such a pressing issue impacting the health and wellness of its students, rather than relying on students to use our limited resources. 

Of course, the Brandeis community has a mutual responsibility to support one another, but when students are going hungry and the institution is aware of the problem, it is hard to understand why providing for its students’ most basic survival needs is not the University’s top priority. Every day, Brandeis makes choices as to where it will invest its money — why isn’t student hunger first on the list?

Food is a right, not a privilege. We would hope a university that touts its commitment to social justice would support this value. When students do not have consistent access to nutritious food, they are put at a disadvantage academically, and their physical, mental, and emotional health is negatively impacted in a myriad of ways. Students come to Brandeis for its renowned academic experience, top-notch professors programs, and engaged community, but Brandeis is failing its students by not doing everything it can to ensure every student’s most basic needs are met.