Student Food Insecurity at the University of California, Davis: Using Design Thinking to Generate Creative Solutions

Authors: Elizabeth Castner*, UC Davis Geography Graduate Group, Gwyneth Manser*, UC Davis Geography Graduate Group, Angela M. Chapman, Geography Graduate Group, University of California, Davis
Topics: Social Geography, Qualitative Research, Higher Education
Keywords: food insecurity, design thinking, food studies, campus
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Roosevelt 7, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 2015, the University of California (UC) commissioned a survey to understand student food insecurity, revealing that 42 percent of UC students are food-insecure. This research is focused on UC Davis (UCD) and involves two aspects. First, a critical look at ongoing efforts at UCD towards addressing student food insecurity, including distributing free produce and non-perishable foods, creating a basic needs security center, and hosting a full-time Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program representative on campus. Second, the application of design thinking to develop potential solutions. Design thinking is a multidisciplinary, innovative, human-centered approach to solving complex problems, and the application of design thinking to address campus food insecurity is unique. By leveraging design thinking, researchers are able to brainstorm solutions beyond the traditional bounds of academic research and knowledge production, resulting in a range of potential solutions to increase student food security. Past research reveals that UCD students’ experiences with food insecurity are caused by a complex array of factors and cannot be solved by any single intervention. A course taught in fall 2018 at UCD, Design Thinking for Food, brought together students from diverse disciplines to engage with student food insecurity through a design thinking lens. Preliminary findings point toward the importance of increasing the visibility, clarity, and consistency of messaging about food security resources while respecting the need for privacy, as well as the importance of an intersectional understanding of student food insecurity. This paper details the critical perspectives on campus food insecurity gained through a design thinking approach.

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