Penn State’s Student Advisory Board on Student Poverty (SABOSP) finalized its recommendations for tackling student poverty on campus to submit them to Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims.
The 46-page proposal provides insight into the student perspective on student poverty. Notably, it calls for the creation of a new university office to help those struggling with student poverty.
“We thank the students for their committed efforts to help find solutions to the ongoing problem of student poverty,” Sims said in a release. “Student advocacy on this front has been clear and persistent, and the student advisory board’s findings will help us to further develop our focused, institutional response to the food and housing problems too many of our students face. We intend to pilot a new initiative targeted specifically at the concerns the advisory board has identified, and with the support and collaboration of these and other students, we are determined to provide the help required where it is needed most.”
SABOSP’s central recommendation is the addition of a new office to aid students who are struggling to access basic resources. Sims is currently working with colleagues and student leaders to set up a new function that will include administrative supervision to aid the initiatives already in progress to minimize food and housing insecurity among Penn State students.
“It has been nothing short of inspiring to witness the work of the SABOSP members. Student perspectives on institutional priorities should be integral to University decision-making,” former University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) President Erin Boas said. “We are so grateful for the partnership with Student Affairs, and I am eager to see the transformational progress that can result from the group’s recommendations.”
UPUA formed the advisory board alongside Student Affairs to create solutions to address student poverty on campus while also helping students who are struggling to access food, housing, and other basic necessities.
UPUA President-elect Najee Rodriguez and Lion’s Pantry President Emily Griffin are the co-coordinators for SABOSP, which is comprised of 15 other students. Rodriguez noted that the rising cost of higher education affects the most vulnerable students.
“Nationwide, student poverty has been an issue that hasn’t always received the attention that it deserves, and it feels validating to see an intersectional collaboration between the University and students, focused on helping fellow Penn Staters who face these challenges. We are part of a voluntary and mutually respectful relationship with the University, in which students are being listened to, and heard,” Rodriguez said in a release. “The students who are part of the SABOSP come from a variety of different backgrounds, all of whom are deeply passionate about addressing student poverty and bettering student life for those around them.”
Rodriguez has spoken first-hand about his experience as a first-generation college student who has experienced poverty.
“For students who cannot afford to eat, do not have a place to sleep, cannot afford medical services, or just cannot afford basic life necessities — this commitment from the institution to examine these issues in concert with students, and to find solutions to a national issue, changes everything,” Rodriguez said. “Things will get better, and they can get better.”
The advisory board’s efforts are the latest in the series of actions Penn State has started to address the issue of food and housing insecurity at the university. In February 2020, Penn State President Eric Barron created a Food and Housing Security Task Force to examine solutions to combat the issue. The task force has advanced initiatives on student poverty, including housing scholarships and improvements to the Lion’s Pantry. Additionally, Barron and his wife, Molly, established the Eric and Molly Barron Student Food Security Endowment, which provides meal plans for undergrad students who face food insecurity.