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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Eradicating Hunger, Malnourishment, and Homelessness: The Movement for Student Basic Needs Security in Higher Education


The normalized “ramen diet” of college students has become of greater concern as calls to eradicate hunger and homelessness on campuses gained traction in recent years, but little information is available on how this social movement began. This thesis traces the trajectory of the college basic needs movement and examines the challenges faced in implementing intervention mechanisms. Using a mixed-methods research design, I interviewed key leaders and conducted content analysis of media coverage of this issue, in addition to drawing upon insights from over three years of field work at the UC Berkeley Basic Needs Committee.

I argue that the college basic needs movement gained traction due to the combined effects of the widespread economic downturn during the 2007-2009 Great Recession, escalating student debt and cost of college, published research studies that legitimized the student experiences, and grassroots efforts to institutionalize intervention mechanisms. These factors contributed to the shift from individual campus initiatives to a holistic, collective movement and allowed its leaders to acquire resources and influence policy changes to combat this crisis. While the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the movement trajectory, it has raised awareness towards the changed reality of the college student experience and uplifted the importance of the holistic framework integrated in the movement. Ultimately, the college experience was not built for basic needs insecure students, and social service programs were not built for college students--addressing this fundamental misalignment will be a continued focus for the movement to eradicate hunger, malnourishment, and homelessness in higher education.

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