Students experiencing hunger and housing challenges are likely to desire invisibility or anonymity. It can be helpful for staff and faculty to know and recognize subtle signs. It is also of value to create a safe space where these issues are acknowledged as normal and a nonjudgmental attitude is maintained throughout the educational environment. Remember that stereotypes of students with insufficient access to basic needs may not match reality and circumstances for each student will be unique.
In order to facilitate an open environment, it is recommended that a basic needs statement be added to class syllabi with standard wording such as:
Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live, and believes this may affect their performance in the course, is urged to contact the Trojan Pantry and Campus Support and Intervention. There is a food pantry, access to Cal Fresh food grants, financial and other resources, and counseling to help. Furthermore, please notify the professor if you are comfortable in doing so. This will enable them to provide any resources they possess. No student should have to worry about food, lack of safe housing, eviction or couch surfing when midterms, keeping your GPA up, and getting to work is already stressful enough. USC has resources to help.
Possible signs of students who may need support:
- Unexplained absence(s) from class
- Unexplained lack of follow through on assignments
- Change in behavior
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleepy or unresponsive
- Jokes or references to lack of food or sleep
Suggestions for a helpful response:
- Create a welcoming climate and build trust with all students
- Offer encouragement and recognition to build line of communication
- Ask open ended questions and try to use descriptive language and terminology that student uses to describe their situation
- Take a trauma-informed approach by allowing students space, choice and control over their communication with you and other aspects of interaction as appropriate
- Plan ahead and inform students about changes to expect within classroom or environment to foster a sense of safety and security
- Seek to understand behavior such as tardiness or difficulty with assignments and address within context of external difficulties
- Maintain student privacy and discuss concerns or behavior away from others
- Offer opportunities to take an active role in class and contribute strengths to others to build a sense of empowerment, support coping skills, and bolster resiliency
Also see our Get Help Now page for campus resources!