A letter from Dr. Irvine’s Liberation Theology Class to our community

To the Maryville College community: 

We, the undersigned students of Maryville College, all took a course on Liberation Theology last fall. In the course, we studied hunger as a theological problem. We write this letter to you all to urge that Maryville College get involved with the research done by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. We believe that there are issues of food insecurity on campus among students that need to be addressed. In order to effectively address these issues, we are proposing that Maryville College joins the HOPE Center research.

What We Have Learned from Studying Liberation Theology: 

A crucial thing that we have learned from studying Liberation of Theology is that our lives are not just determined for us: we all live in what the Brazilian thinker, Paulo Freire, called a “situation,” that is, a situation that poses obstacles, but also opportunities, to our becoming more fully human. If we apply this to our situation, we recognize that, although everyone on campus comes from a different financial background or homelife, everyone on campus also deserves to eat and live properly. Maryville’s students, staff, and community need to care for each other so that we call can become more fully human.

We have also learned that a deeper meaning of “salvation” is not escape from the world, but deeper involvement in it, all of us working together to make this world more nearly a place where people are free to be more fully human, as we are made to be.

And we have learned that hunger and its effects are some of the most basic obstacles that can keep a person back from realizing their humanity more fully. Again, thinking of our situation as students at Maryville College, a student who does not get enough to eat, or is unable to eat regularly, cannot be a student to the best of their ability. Hunger hurts their mental and physical abilities, as Dr. Jennifer Oody explained to us in a guest lecture.

What We Know About Hunger at Maryville College: 

Awareness of student hunger on campus reached a new level this past fall, when The Highland Echo published two hunger-related stories. One, by Brinley Knowles, reported on the fall break problems with food service on campus. The other, by Andrew Kerr, was simply titled, “It’s Hard to Study When You’re Hungry.” Besides these reports, from our own experience we think food insecurity is a serious problem, if not rampant, on Maryville’s campus.

There are students who aren’t eating due to lack of meal swipes and money for food. Some students cannot afford the expensive meal plans on campus, and those who are on meal plans are running out of meals to properly eat throughout the day For these reasons, we were really excited by Metz’s “Swipes for Scots” meal swipe donation event at the end of January. Thank you, Metz!

Still, the problem we face is a long term one that will not be solved with one event. Hunger and food insecurity are bigger problems than we might imagine. We must realize that things aren’t always as they seem. A student may be eating every day, but how many meals are they missing, causing them to lack adequate nutrition? How many times have they had to give up a meal in order to have a guaranteed meal the next day?

How many times have they had to skip some meals in order to purchase an expensive textbook or course code? How many meals do they eat that provide them with what they need to be healthy? Many people who make choices regarding policies that influence the hunger on campus do not realize that these questions reflect real choices made by so many struggling students without the necessary resources.

Another major issue of food insecurity on campus is students running out of meal swipes early. Athletes especially have run into this problem. Athletes on campus require more food to match the demands of practice and game schedules.

However, eating at the proper level has caused many athletes to run out of meal swipes right before finals. This leaves athletes scrapping around for meals at the most important time of year. Athletes and other students are not having their needs met due to the shortcomings of meal plans that the College provides.

Joining the HOPE Center will help us address hunger at Maryville College more effectively. 

One of the surprising things about food insecurity is that most students who fall into the category of being food insecure are not aware that they do. Although these students may not experience the symptoms of severe hunger, still the effects of hunger on their lives are serious.

We think Maryville College should get involved in the Hope Center’s research because we need to be able to know better the real extent and nature of student hunger on our campus. Then we can act confidently, to really help those of us who can’t help themselves on their own.

The Maryville College Statement of Purpose says: “Through caring for others on campus and beyond, sharing genuine concern for the world, and working to fulfill the College’s purpose, directors, administration, staff, faculty, and students strive to build and strengthen the human community.” If we truly mean this, then hunger should be one of the first things we address, because it is a problem that we experience every day, that weakens our community and our mission here on our campus and in the world.

The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice is a nonprofit research center focused on rethinking and restructuring higher education and social policies, practices, and resources to create opportunities for all students to complete college degrees. The Hope Center’s goal is “to improve the lives of #RealCollege students by redefining the status quo, drawing attention to those ‘non-academic’ issues that are often overlooked when evaluating higher education and other social institutions.”

Every year, the Hope Center conducts a national study of students’ basic needs, the “#RealCollege Survey.” The survey produces hard, specific data on the extent and nature of hunger and food insecurity (among other issues) at each campus that participates. Furthermore, the Hope Center supports a national network sharing ideas to solve those same problems that hold college students back.

As Maryville College embarks on a new strategic plan, partnering with the Hope Center would help place us in a position to advance all of the first four imperatives: empowering students and graduates through transformative education, living our mission as a Community and with our community, accelerating change through operational excellence, and, perhaps most obviously, investing in people, resources and infrastructure. In this way, working with the Hope Center promises significant benefits to Maryville College.

What’s more, we would also contribute to a better grasp of the problems of real college students nation-wide. So getting involved in the #RealCollege Survey will fuel the energy needed for MC students to perform at their highest potential, “doing good on the largest possible scale.”

What does it take to get involved? The Hope Center asks cooperating institutions to contribute a total of just $1000 to support the #RealCollege survey. That money is used to offer gift card prizes to encourage students to participate in the survey, making it a better, more reliable instrument. The Hope Center bears the rest of the costs of conducting the research and disseminating findings back to the Colleges that participate.

The only other thing it takes to get involved is the will. And that is ultimately why we are writing this letter to you, the whole Maryville College community. We believe that many Maryville College students will have obstacles to their becoming more fully human removed, and opportunities to do so improved, if we will take this chance as an institution. If you agree, please add your voice to ours, whether through Student Government or the Echo or in some other way.

Conclusion 

As a community and a college campus we must strive to create a better environment. We can start this by going to the root of our issue, campus hunger, and researching the best possible way to address the issue that has presented itself. In order to effectively research this prevalent topic, we must call upon the work of the HOPE Center.

Thank you for your time and patience with reading this letter. We are eager to hear from you and to potentially work together toward our goal in the future.

Sincerely,

Theology of Liberation Fall Semester 2018: Ashley Berry, Mateus Coling, Andrew Collins, Bryan Crouser, Erick Graham, Hayli Meeks, Lesli Nolazco, Kae Parsons, and Isaac Wiley.

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