Grant Helps WSU System Meet Basic Student Needs – WSU Insider
A new state grant is helping Washington State University meet the basic needs of students across the system.
The Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) grant is funding various initiatives, including a new position that will work with WSU’s diverse student body to address food and housing insecurity.
According to a 2019 Real College survey, about 37.5% of students at four-year colleges nationwide experienced food insecurity between 2015 and 2019, and about 41.5% experienced housing insecurity. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened these insecurities for many students and highlighted the continued need for assistance with basic needs.
“We’re here to support student success, and you can’t be a strong student if you’re hungry or don’t know where you’re going to sleep,” said Ellen Taylor, Vice President/Vice Chancellor for Student Business at WSU Pullman. “We cannot fulfill our mission if we do not ensure that these basic needs are met.”
A system-wide effort
WSU was awarded the WSAC grant in the fall of 2021 following an application process led by WSU Vancouver. Although the staff there initially thought the grant could simply be used to meet basic needs in Vancouver, they quickly realized that all WSU students could benefit from the funding.
“The intent of the grant is to determine how we meet basic needs as a system and continue our efforts to support all of our students,” said Domanic Thomas, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Enrollment at WSU Vancouver.
What those efforts will look like continues to evolve, giving WSU the opportunity to learn and innovate to meet those needs, said Thomas and Jill Creighton, associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students. A key component is the post of Basic Needs Manager, who coordinates system-wide efforts to meet basic needs. The role, recently filled by Heidi Hughes, will take a “broad perspective on where we are as an institution and where we need to go,” Creighton said.
“I’m so excited for Heidi’s leadership because she has a lot of expertise in food safety outside of academic spaces,” Creighton said. “I look forward to seeing with Heidi what this might look like for the WSU system. Meeting basic needs is everyone’s job, and Heidi will be crucial in moving these initiatives forward.”
Hughes, who has worked in the field of hunger relief for more than four years and is currently pursuing his master’s degree in public administration at the University of Illinois at Springfield, started in his new position on April 1 and has already began assessing student needs at each WSU site. .
“Student needs vary widely from campus to campus,” she said. “We have a big discussion about how we work with a suburban campus versus a more traditional campus like Pullman, for example, or what it means to be on a coastal campus versus inland. , and what it all means for student needs.”
Take advantage of local resources
One of the results of this evaluation is the creation of positions for student navigators. Funded by the WSAC grant, student navigators will help their peers explore local and national resources that students typically don’t have access to, such as SNAP, public housing, and transportation assistance.
“This peer-to-peer model is designed to reduce barriers to entry that students might encounter when seeking out these resources,” Thomas said.
Student navigators are just one element of what will be a multifaceted, coalition-based approach to meeting WSU’s basic needs. Future programs will focus on mobilizing and connecting resources in each community, Hughes said, which includes allocating grant funds for each campus that provide local support for specific student needs. For example, Pullman scholarship funds can be used to help students pay for housing during school vacations, while Vancouver funds can help students pay for an apartment security deposit.
The grant and new support services go hand in hand with a major institutional push around basic needs education and destigmatization. Many students are hesitant to ask for help, Hughes said, because they are embarrassed to need help.
“The stigma is so pervasive,” she said. “Students may know that their friends should use these resources, but they don’t internalize that they deserve these resources and can use them too. »
Taylor said she thinks the mindset can change at WSU as students in recent years have been more open about their needs.
“The pandemic has normalized the struggle many people have experienced around some of our most basic needs,” she said. “Our current students have adopted the mindset that there is no shame in needing help, whether it’s with academics, mental health or basic needs. We are working to continue these de-stigmatization efforts.
This push to support basic student needs not only helps students grow academically and personally, but also helps WSU fulfill its land-grant mission by providing access to education.
“We care about our students as human beings – that they have enough to eat and that they have a safe place to sleep and study,” Creighton said. “These things are essential to being a human being, and they are also essential to student success and well-being. Meeting these basic needs helps us fulfill our mission to provide ongoing access to education, which means ensuring students have what they need to graduate.