Janice McCall, PhD, LSW. Photo by Rossilynne Culgan for The Incline
Originally formed to provide gently used clothing to students
in need, the Carlow Closet was
expanded this year to include nonperishable food items.
Food scarcity is a problem for many college students today, and
Carlow Magazine sat down with JANICE MCCALL, PHD, LSW to talk about
the reasons for this.
Carlow University Magazine: How real is the
problem of food scarcity on college campuses right now? Is there a
reason this has come to light?
McCall: We work in higher education. It
behooves us to know these sorts of issues for our students so they
can be more successful. The issue of food scarcity and hunger has
been around forever. It was in the 1990s when it became a source
for data collection.
Carlow University Magazine: Was there an
"a-ha" moment that led you to expand the Carlow Closet to include
nonperishable food items, or was it just a natural
McCall: I've been at Carlow since 2017, and
around that time, Sara Goldrick-Rab and her colleagues at Wisconsin
Hope Lab came out with their massive report about the state of
collegiate basic needs. Around that time the University of
Pittsburgh had their first annual regional conference about having
this conversation. As I would read these reports, it became very
clear to me that many of the most vulnerable groups around basic
needs and securities are very much on our own campus. Our mission
is so well aligned with taking care of our students and our
community, I thought, 'What the heck are we doing about this
issue?' There was a grant opportunity for me to build off of what
we had here at Carlow. I learned there was a clothing closet to
collect items that students had at the end of the term and maybe
didn't want to take home with them. The grant allowed us to expand
that, so the "a-ha" was really the timing; knowing the existing
population of our students and seizing on the grant opportunity. I
teach grant writing here, so I'm always looking for opportunities
to use existing resources and also someone else's money to address
how do we serve our students in a better way.
Carlow University Magazine: How has the
Carlow Closet been received by students? And is it possible to
quantify the need on campus?
McCall: I would say now we have a fairly
consistent number of students who are returning users. We have
achieved some sort of status on campus. I'm pretty comfortable to
say that most people know what it is, or, at least, know where to
go if they need help. I think it has been well received by
students. Quantifying need … the literature always talks about
number of orders filled, pounds distributed or number of new faces,
and that's important, but, in the end, I think what's more
important for me is, do our students know where to go, have we
empowered them with questions to ask, places to go, skills to use,
so that maybe they don't have to use the Closet, right?
Carlow University Magazine: Aside from
creating something like the Carlow Closet, are there other ways to
address the problem of food scarcity among college
McCall: The neat thing about the Closet is
that it still serves those basic human needs, regardless of who the
student is. They could easily be one paycheck away from a
catastrophic life event, so that's a nice unifying factor. So if we
maintain the messaging so that we are non-threatening, that's one
way to talk about it. Find safe spaces on campus so you're kind of
lumped in with the other student supports. It's nice if I can talk
to our residence life office or disability services or our health
office, and I'm happy to reach out to those colleagues to
collaborate. It's never an issue about "who are your students and
who are my students." It's a lot more students than we think.
Collegiate food insecurity can affect anywhere from one-third of
college students in some studies all the way up to 70 percent at
other colleges. I think at our college, it is somewhere around 30
percent, if not more, depending on the pocket of students that are
using it, but any number in that range is something we can change.
I try to adhere to our theme, stating clearly that it is about
hospitality. It's really about welcoming that student and making
sure that they feel welcome on campus. I would hate for a student
to feel that just because they can't afford food, they don't feel
connected to the campus.
For more information about the Carlow Closet, email firstname.lastname@example.org .
this story originally appeared in the Fall 2018 edition of Carlow Magazine