Critical geographies of campus food pantries: exploring sustainability of student-led pantries, perceived administrative support, and the impact of COVID-19

Authors: Charlotte Lenkaitis*, University of Iowa
Topics: Social Geography
Keywords: Critical geography, college food insecurity
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Rates for college food insecurity are higher than the general population. To address growing rates of college food insecurity, student-operated food pantries have been the immediate response on many colleges campuses. However, there is a lack of research as to which campus pantry approaches are the most effective and how students cope with the stress and anxiety of operating a service for the entire campus community. As COVID-19 has increased demand for food emergency services, stress on pantry operations and staff has only increased. Through a critical geographical perspective, this research seeks to understand the lived experiences of student leaders working to address food insecurity on Big Ten campuses and how University administrators understand their role and responsibility in this effort. This research uses collective ethnographic analysis to explore the lived experiences of food pantry executive team members at a Big Ten institution. The results of the autoethnographic process will inform a survey that will be distributed to other Big Ten university food pantry student leaders to understand the different configurations of institutional responses to food insecurity in respect to student volunteer labor. Finally, interviews with University administrators responsible for campus food security initiatives will further reveal socio-political dynamics within university structures that influence institutional responses to address college food insecurity. Broadly, this project will inform the future of campus food pantries, assessing the capacity of students to run campus food pantries and critically examining how basic needs are met within an increasingly neoliberal University campus.

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