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Editorial: Recent policy change is only a start for UCLA to ensure food security for students

By Editorial Board

Feb. 15, 2024 7:47 p.m.

The 2024-2025 academic year will ring in a new era of dining policies after years of UCLA administrative policy around overdue housing charges.

For students currently residing on campus, university dining is included within the housing contract, with six different options for meal plans of varying prices. Housing payment plans are included in BruinBill and issued each quarter.

The bill must be paid in full for a student to have access to dining on campus. In the 2023-2024 housing contract and in previous years, students who did not pay the complete amount due were subject to dining account restrictions.

But in the next school year, UCLA will no longer deny students with overdue charges from accessing on-campus dining establishments.

The editorial board commends UCLA administration for this humane policy change, which provides all students with the ability to eat regardless of their socioeconomic status. It is surprising that the administration’s move to ensure that students experiencing economic distress and hardship do not go hungry was not made until 2024.

Although the university’s effort to minimize restrictions on students with overdue charges is a start, it must continue to aid the coalition of need-based organizations in addressing inequities on campus.

If students are experiencing food insecurity, administrators can direct them to the UCLA Financial Wellness Program, which provides information on locations of various food closets and organizations in the greater Los Angeles area that aim to support student needs.

Led by a group of campus partners, the Economic Crisis Response Team provides resources for students in vulnerable situations, whether that includes supplemental meal swipes or even housing. Moreover, the UCLA CalFresh Initiative includes a team of students who support other students when applying for grocery assistance to receive an Electronic Benefits Transfer card, also known as food stamps.

This push for food equity and equality has been in the works for many years from student-run organizations, including Bruin Dine, Bruin Shelter and Swipe Out Hunger, that have advocated to usher in new eras of food security for students living on campus.

After banding together to create a Community Service Commission of the Undergraduate Students Association Council, students from across these organizations worked with the Student Accounts administrators to target restrictions that penalize students who are unable to pay.

UCLA students should not have to worry about whether they can afford to eat or find shelter for the future.

According to UCLA Undergraduate Admission, fees posted on BruinBill before the beginning of the academic term may not match the final approved fees as the quarter progresses.

Nevertheless, it is unfair to students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, to be subjected to uncertainty in the cost of attendance. Furthermore, if students are unable to pay the full final postings of tuition after unexpected changes are made, they should not be subjected to restrictions in their housing and meal plans.

Organizations such as Swipe Out Hunger and Bruin Shelter work primarily with students to alleviate food and shelter insecurities collectively based on the idea of mutual aid – students aiding students when their needs are not met.

The university must effectively support the impactful missions of these organizations with increased communication and administrative action, which has been advocated for in the past.

As a part of a larger basic needs community called the Student Coalition for Basic Needs, these organizations gathered stories and figures about food insecurity and presented their findings to administrators who were inconsistent participants in the conversation. After months of building support and rapport with administrators, the policy was repealed.

No amount of facts and figures can change the broader issues at hand without the support of administrative approval. The university can aid this disconnect by providing greater communication and support with the Student Coalition for Basic Needs.

With a cohesive flow of information, student organizations can continue their work and witness progress faster. UCLA has the power and capability to aid students who are experiencing insecurity in basic needs. If it can facilitate the correct amount of support and care for these initiatives, student organizations will be better equipped to serve a larger number of students within marginalized communities.

While the policy change will alleviate the dining hall restrictions previously imposed, it will not eliminate the problem of food insecurity as a whole. By tapping into the resources the university possesses, student organizations will be able to provide more support for students in need.

Along with student initiatives, UCLA administration should continue increasing access for EBT users on campus. In Sept. 2022, the university announced that EBT cards could be used at the UCLA Store Market in Ackerman Student Union. In January, the Health Sciences Store and LuValle Commons were added to accept CalFresh, which expanded food opportunities for EBT users.

The university’s recent strides to address food insecurity are commendable and a celebratory moment for many Bruins. UCLA’s abundance of resources, alongside the support of the Student Coalition for Basic Needs, can create a stronger foundation of mutual aid between the university and the student body.

As students are encouraged to work together to improve the food banks, donation programs and emergency response teams, the manpower for change is readily available.

Now, it is up to the university to push off from the starting block and sprint toward more substantial progress in providing basic needs for students.

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