Skip to main content

Reducing the Stigma of Food Insecurity on College Campuses

Now more than ever, obtaining healthy food is of the utmost importance – especially for college students. However, finding a way for college students to maintain a healthy diet is a lot easier said than done. After all, college students are known for living off of instant noodles and processed foods alike. However, this is not a feasible way to live. Having a healthy diet is incredibly important but can also be difficult for college students to obtain due to factors such as cost and accessibility. In fact, the 2021 #RealCollege Survey found that 28% of Boise State students reported being food insecure in the past 30 days. So, how do we solve this crisis? Enter the university food pantry – college campus’ relatively new weapon in combating food insecurity. In fact, according to Heather Hernandez, a research analyst for Academic Impressions, “In 12 years, the number of food pantries on college campuses has grown from 1 to 700” (1). While this encouraging progress has been made, another problem has been on the rise – the stigma of food insecurity. Even when resources are available to those who need them, the social and cultural stigma of accepting free food or goods prevents students from accessing the tools that they need to survive. Now, the complex task of reducing this stigma faces college campuses, faculty, and students daily. However, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the stigma of food pantry usage. 

Location. Location. Location

Location is one of the most important factors concerning Food Pantries, especially on a college campus. The ideal University Food Pantry is like a double-sided coin: centrally located while offering privacy for its patrons. Food Pantries should be in a place with high foot-traffic so students can see that it is an option available to them. However, Food Pantries should also offer privacy to those who use them so as to reduce any feelings of shame for visiting the space. Thus, finding a place on university campuses with both options is ultimately one of the best ways to reduce this stigma. 


Another way in which universities can assist in reducing this stigma is by providing adequate food and supplies to their campus food pantries. Asking students what they would like from their campus food pantries is a great way to start this process – in fact, Boise State’s very own Food Pantry utilizes this method by sending out surveys to gather feedback. Additionally, partnering with local restaurants or farms to acquire fresh produce and healthy food options is a great way to assist in reducing the stigma of utilizing the food pantry because it gives patrons more options to choose from. The result of a greater variety of food options is an increase in overall pantry usage. Offering healthier food options within food pantries is incredibly important because research has shown that, “Without a healthy diet, people already struggling financially may be more vulnerable to health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity” (2). 

Faculty Support & Awareness

A way in which professors or teachers can assist in combating this issue is including a section about on and off campus food resources within their course syllabi. In fact, psychologist Dr. Yu-Wei Wang from the University of Maryland Counseling Center and Dr. Heather Bullock, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, encourages professors to utilize this method in their communities, just as they have in theirs. Dr. Bullock also, “…projects slides before class showing the definition and rate of food insecurity throughout the UC system and information about the university’s basic needs website—an online hub with resources for food, housing, wellness and financial security” (3). Promoting the existence of the food pantries themselves within the student and faculty community through these methods and others is a wonderful and beneficial way to also reduce this stigma. 

The issue of tackling food insecurity within the college student population is no easy task. However, with university and faculty assistance, the stigma surrounding Food Pantry usage can be chipped away at for days, weeks, and months at a time. Utilizing these resources and methods will assist our on and off campus student population and thus promote an overall sense of well-being throughout our community. So please, be Bronco Strong and do your part to reduce the stigma of food insecurity wherever you can.