Abstract: College Student Experiences with Food Insecurity, Social Connection and Disconnection, and Resource Navigation during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

285P College Student Experiences with Food Insecurity, Social Connection and Disconnection, and Resource Navigation during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Anthony Campbell, PhD, Assistant Professor, Auburn University, Auburn, AL
Jennifer Jettner, PhD, Assistant Professor, Auburn University, Auburn, AL
Background & Purpose

Little is known about how social factors, like social relationships, social support, and social isolation, may be linked to student food insecurity. Understanding more about the role of social influences on student food security and general well-being is especially pertinent during times of duress (e.g., COVID-19 pandemic). Information obtained through student interviews may be used to improve college food pantry services and identify creative solutions that simultaneously address food insecurity and hunger as well as strengthening social supports.


This qualitative interview study aims to collect information about students' experiences of food security and using a campus food pantry as well as how food access and availability may be related to social factors such as social relationships, social support, and social isolation. The participant sample is derived from 49 Auburn University students who previously participated in an online survey on the same topic and expressed interest in being contacted for this interview study. Currently, 10 interviews have been completed and we anticipate completing at least 15 interviews after continued recruitment. Semi-structured Interviews lasting between 45 and 60 minutes were conducted and audio-recorded via Zoom. Interviews were transcribed verbatim, coded, and analyzed using a thematic analysis process.


To date, the sample consists of 10 students (9 female; 5 White; 2 Black; 3 Hispanic; 5 undergraduate; 5 graduate; 5 international students. Preliminary data reveal that students experienced increased hardship during the pandemic related to reduced income and increased social isolation. Participants recount how they struggled with food insecurity prior to COVID-19 and then how their circumstances tended to deteriorate during the pandemic. Despite these challenges, participants explained that they have been able to use their resource navigation skills to obtain needed services for their basic needs. Participants credited both their own independent actions and social supports for helping them maintain their budgets and nutrition.

Conclusion & Implications

Thus far, a key insight from this research is that students using one campus food pantry identified themselves as resourceful and adept at finding services to meet their needs in terms of food and nutrition as well as exploring ways to offset tight budget demands. Resourcefulness and planning appear to be strengths among this student sample as they navigate support systems. Participants also identified the importance of the support of campus services as well as having the support of at least one family member or friend who could help them access services. College food pantries should focus additional effort on promoting their services more openly to all students who may become vulnerable to economic instability and food insecurity during difficult widespread circumstances such as illness pandemics. Students in social work programs are equipped to help in the effort to advertise campus food-related supports, normalize seeking help, and decrease the stigma of food insecurity. Social work programs should actively encourage their students to engage in such activities.