How HBCU Students Can Access Enough Food

Black students attending public HBCUs are facing alarming rates of food insecurity. Here’s how they can be successful. (Credit: Maskot via Getty Images.)

by Anissa Durham

We all need food. It shouldn’t matter what your background is; everyone should have access to affordable, high-quality food. But, in the country we live in, that’s not always the case. Students at historically black colleges and universities are reportedly facing higher rates of food insecurity than students at predominantly white institutions.  

Nationally, 23% of college students experienced food insecurity in 2020. However, 46% of students attending private and public HBCU campuses reported food insecurity in 2020, according to the #RealCollegeHBCU report by the Hope Center. 

national survey of more than 1,500 college students between 1999 to 2003, with a follow-up from 2015 to 2017, found that food-insecure college students have 42% lower odds of graduating. And food insecurity among college students contributes to poor mental health, physical health, and a lower grade point average.

Why this matters: Black students face more socioeconomic barriers to higher education than their white peers, including higher rates of campus housing insecurity and the elimination of affirmative action in college admissions. Being unable to afford food is yet another hurdle to a college diploma.  

While policy changes are slow-moving, there are ways Black students can access affordable foods. In an email interview with Word In Black, Maya Feller, a nutrition equity advocate and registered dietitian, had tips for how HBCU students struggling to get enough to eat can access affordable, nutritious food. Here are her top pieces of advice. 

  • Lean into options that are accessible, affordable, and culturally relevant. Fresh, boxed, canned, frozen, and jarred are all options. 
  • Shop the entire grocery store and seek out shelf-stable options, avoiding packaged food with high levels of sugar, synthetic fat, and salt. 
  • The dairy case can and should be on the list when looking for protein-rich options.

“Food has the potential to inform future health outcomes. To have access to nourishing, nutrient-dense options, can play a role in mitigating future disease,” Feller says. “It’s important that we come together as communities and say that we collectively want and have the human right to have good, affordable options where we live.” 

What the data says: 

  • Black borrowers enrolled at HBCUs in 2020 reported they skipped meals because they didn’t have enough money for food 
  • Two-thirds of the 5,000 HBCU survey participants said they experienced at least one form of basic need insecurity 
  • Students attending public HBCUs experienced food insecurity and housing insecurity at higher rates than students attending private HBCUs 

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“I recommend students seek ongoing support from credentialed practitioners online and on social media,” Feller says. “There are registered dietitians who prioritize culturally relevant foods, so students can gather information from not only a credible source within their time online but also from someone who mirrors their food culture.” 

Bottom line: Black HBCU students, the future of our community, deserve access to quality and nutritious foods. There are options available, and it’s about knowing who to ask and where to go.