When we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, sometimes what constitutes “equity” and “inclusion” can seem vague. In higher education, a critical component- the bare minimum- is ensuring students’ basic needs are met, so that they have the opportunity to participate in education itself. Or in other words, what is the point of admitting students to college if we can’t guarantee they have enough to eat, a place to live, to pay their bills, or get healthcare when they need it?

In 2022, 25% of all UC undergraduates reported having very low food security– and this increased to more than 1/3 for racially and ethnically minoritized students: African American (37%), American Indian (36%), Hispanic/Latinx students (36%). For more information, you can check out the University of California Student Basic Needs Dashboard.

The following are student-led projects on various services at UC Davis and UC campuses (in which I served as the faculty advisor)

ASUCD Pantry: Food Insecurity and Basic Needs on Campus

The ASUCD Pantry is a student-led, student-run UC Davis organization that provides food and other essentials to UC Davis students and staff who may be struggling to pay for meals and other basic necessities, such as toiletries and other essentials.

In 2020, the ASUCD Pantry supported the UCD community during the COVID-19 spring closure of most campus services, pivoting to a pick up and delivery system, and then transformed to an order-based service when UCD returned to on-campus learning in fall of 2020.

COVID-19 UCD Pantry Rapid Needs Assessment (March 2020)

UCD Master’s in Public Health Students assisted Pantry leadership to conduct a rapid needs assessment at the start of the campus shutdown in March, to understand how student needs were going to change during this time period.

Addressing UC Davis Student Food Insecurity and Other Basic Needs During the Coronavirus Pandemic (August 2020)

Prior to the return of on-campus learning, Pantry leadership worked with Alexis Mae Callinawan, MPH, to conduct a more extensive survey-based assessment on user characteristics and needs, learn how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted users, and gather information to plan for fall services.

ASUCD Pantry Organizational Sustainability Evaluation (December 2021-August 2022)

From 2018-2021, ASUCD Pantry services, resources, and staff grew several-fold. Former ASUCD Pantry Director Ryan Choi and Assistant Director Ryan McClintick conducted interviews with Pantry staff and leadership to evaluate the organization structure, staff and work experiences to provide insights on how to support the sustainability of a large, student-run organization tasked with the responsibility of meeting student basic needs.

Final Report – Evaluation of ASUCD Pantry Operations

University of California students: Health and healthcare

At UC campuses, student health and coverage are primarily organized around UC SHIP, the Student Health Insurance Plan, on-campus student health centers, and referrals to neighboring and/or UC-owned health systems; secondarily students with private coverage from parents/guardians are can waive SHIP and organize care and access around their family plans. With the expansion of UC to include more first-generation and low-income students, Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid program) is another major coverage option- but usually not accepted by UC student health centers or UC health systems (for primary care, and restricted for specialty services).

Experiences of Low-income UC Students in Selection of Health Insurance, Access, and Quality of Care

Vicky Vong (UCD 2022) conducted a focus groups of low-income students from 5 UC campuses to describe their understanding and selection process for choosing health insurance, their experiences with coverage, and access and quality of care.

Low-income UCD Students with Disabilities: Managing Health, Accommodations, and Education

Extending Vicky Vong’s work, Nimra Nazar (UCD 2024) is conducting interviews of low-income students with disabilities, examining health, access to care, and the intersections with obtaining accommodations and overall impacts on the educational experience.