As advocates for students at The Evergreen State College, we are grateful to student Robin Chapman for their recent letter to the editor. Robin points out that they and their friends are struggling with food access, and that more assistance is needed for low-income students.
Students cannot succeed without access to food, shelter, and community support. Approximately one third of Evergreen students reported food and/or housing insecurity during the COVID crisis. Evergreen serves a higher percentage of low-income students than any other four-year college in Washington, with 47.6% of first-year students reporting individual or family income of $30,000 or less.
These students are disproportionately impacted by the health, racial, and economic disparities laid bare by the pandemic. That’s why we’ve fostered campus-community partnerships addressing student basic needs, including hunger.
The Hungry Greener Program allows residential students to get free meals in our cafeteria, or in their rooms if they are in isolation. The Evergreen campus food pantry moved in March from Police Services to the Housing Community Center and is accessible to all students, including those living off campus.
Thanks to our partnership with the Thurston County Food Bank, Evergreen provides bi-weekly food distribution to our Olympia campus and the broader community. It is supported by Washington Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA and student workers. For students who can’t drive to campus, Evergreen’s Geoduck Student Union offers food deliveries in the area.
Evergreen recently secured funding for a student resource and advocacy center, scheduled to open late winter 2021. This center will provide basic health and survival needs such as food, clothing, hygiene, and housing support to improve the physical and mental health of our students and community.
As Evergreen works to meet our students’ needs, we know we’re not alone. Colleges across the country are seeking proactive solutions to widening economic disparities and deepening student needs. We want to ensure student success to graduation - with less college debt.
In this spirit, Evergreen students, staff, faculty, and alumni have taken the lead in supporting each other this year, contributing over $235,000 in emergency funds that have been disbursed to students.
At Evergreen, we know that college should be affordable, and that students shouldn’t have to choose between food and tuition. Evergreen has always offered innovative, interdisciplinary, hands-on education with small class sizes at a public price. The new Washington College Grant has made in-state tuition more affordable for low- and middle-income families. But for many students, attending school and making ends meet is still a struggle.
We hope that national conversations on college costs and debt result in real relief for all students. In the meantime, we’ll continue collaborating with our students and community partners to provide homegrown solutions during this economic and health crisis.
Our students are our future leaders; they know that addressing these inequities head-on is critical to our collective future.
Therese Saliba is vice president for inclusive excellence and student success, and Ellen Shortt-Sanchez directs the Center for Community-Based Learning and Action, both at The Evergreen State College.