Institute for American Musical Theatre Announces 'Creators' Program - Broadway World

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Institute for American Musical Theatre Announces 'Creators' Program - Broadway World Institute for American Musical Theatre Announces 'Creators' Program - Broadway World UB vocal students continue their passion for singing during COVID - University at Buffalo The Spectrum Bowdoin International Music Festival presents harpist June Han - pressherald.com UNR Students: Remote learning for remainder of semester won't change much - ThisisReno Raymond Melcer | Obituary | New Castle News - New Castle News Institute for American Musical Theatre Announces 'Creators' Program - Broadway World Posted: 27 Nov 2020 04:58 AM PST New York City's Institute for American Musical Theatre is moving forward with plans for its unique 2-year "Creators" program. Built and run by award winning lyricist-librettist Sam Carner (Island Song, Unlock'd), the n

How Swipe Out Hunger Is Trying To End Hunger Amongst College Students: An Interview With Rachel Sumekh - Forbes

Did you know that 1 in 3 college students experiences food insecurity? According to a survey of 43,000 college students at 66 schools, 36% of students on U.S. college campuses are considered “food insecure,” meaning they do not get enough to eat. Especially in the age of Covid, where many students from underprivileged backgrounds can’t work the college jobs they need to qualify for SNAP benefits, this problem is greatly exacerbated.

Someone who has been fighting tirelessly to solve this issue is Rachel Sumekh, the Founder and CEO of Swipe Out Hunger, an organization that does incredible work. I caught up with her recently to find out more.

Afdhel Aziz: Please tell us about your journey to start Swipe Out Hunger? 

Rachel Sumekh: Swipe Out Hunger was founded by a group of friends at UCLA in 2010, where my friends and I saw that food access on campus wasn’t equitable— some students had access to amazing, warm meals in the hall, while others lived off of ramen noodles and canned beans. Yet, we were all expected to equally take and succeed in the same classes. Simultaneously, students on my campus had a cumulative of hundreds of thousands of extra dollars left on our meal plans which would expire each quarter. It just didn’t make sense to me while 1 in 3 of my classmates experienced food insecurity. My friends and I galvanized campus administration, the Student Senate, and other campus bodies to create the Swipe Drive, a program that allowed students to donate their unused dining hall meal points to others facing food insecurity. 

Over the last 10 years, Swipe Out Hunger has scaled this solution and other innovative anti-hunger programs to more than 120 colleges in 39 states. Personally, I grew up as shy, quiet Middle Eastern kid so the journey of starting Swipe Out Hunger made me into a vocal advocate and activist. One of the best parts of my job is seeing our current Swipe Out Hunger student leaders go through the same leadership transformation every day.

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Aziz: What does Swipe Out Hunger do and what are some of its programs?

Sumekh: Our primary mission is to end college hunger. Our country tells young people to go to college as a means of achieving the American dream, but once they get there, its not always able to deliver on that promise. This is why our program has three key focuses: Introducing immediate on campus solutions, advancing real policy change at the state and federal level and student empowerment. 

Through our on campus solutions work, we help campuses launch programs to combat student hunger. Our flagship program, “The Swipe Drive,” enables students with extra meal swipes or dining dollars to donate them to their peers. We serve as an expert in innovative and sustainable anti-hunger programs beyond the Swipe drive too. 

We also know we can’t swipe our way out of hunger so we’re deeply invested in advocating for governmental policies that will help students become advocates for basic needs on their campus, as well as at the state and federal level. One of the wildest moments was when I wrote the Hunger Free Campus Bill in 2017 and not only was the legislation passed in California but it's been renewed several years in a row since, sending over $50 million to colleges and universities to fund their anti-hunger work. The bill has also passed in New Jersey and has been introduced in a handful of other states. We believe no one is more qualified to be the face of such policy work than our students so we offer our students advocacy trainings and opportunities to design, launch and join in on targeted campaign opportunities.

Alongside that, the third pillar of our work is centered around student empowerment. We work with colleges to ensure students are at the forefront of every campus food security program. We lift up the stories of students so their experiences drive the national conversation on student hunger. 

Aziz: That’s really inspiring work Rachel. What are the myths and misperceptions of student hunger?

Sumekh: There is a misconception that as long as ramen noodles are available, college students can’t go hungry. There is a whole industry that supports the notion that the starving college experience is a rite of passage— and it shouldn’t be. 

We know that students don’t just perform better when they are nourished, but their entire college experience shifts. They feel a stronger connection with their college, they are able to save money and secure themselves better financially, and they are able to maintain their mental health.

When we continue to romanticize the “hungry college student,” we miss the fact that there are sustainable solutions that all campuses can adopt. If we can just be more thoughtful about how  existing resources and tools can be redirected to those with greatest needs, students won’t have to starve to earn their degree.  

Many people are skeptical that college hunger is real, or that 1 in 3 students experience hunger. The reality is that every day, thirty million American children rely on their schools for their breakfast and lunch. Our Kindergarten-12th grade system knows this and thus we have the National School Breakfast and Lunch program. If we truly want to create pathways out of poverty, we need these meals to continue through to our community colleges and four year schools. 

Aziz: How big is the problem of student hunger? Does it occur worse in some particular types of colleges?

Sumekh: At first glance, a college campus might look like an ultimate meritocracy, a place of equal opportunity: communal dorms, shared dining halls, similar course loads. The reality for many is the very critical elements of a college student’s experience, including a student’s ability to focus in class or feel part of the campus community, are threatened by food insecurity which isn’t a hot topic one most campus brochures. 

One in three college students faces food insecurity nationally and as more students from diverse backgrounds are entering college with hopes of creating a better future, many are struggling to support themselves and finish their degrees. While additional forms of assistance like local food pantries and SNAP exist, many students don’t know how to access these resources and they may be stigmatized. We operate on over 120 campuses from massive state schools like University of Minnesota to small liberal arts colleges like Carleton to local community colleges. 

Aziz: How do we solve the bigger systemic issue?

Sumekh: I’m an optimist, but I know Swipe won't end hunger simply by growing campus programs one school at a time. In the 1960s/70s, going to a public university was actually financially attainable for most students because the state and federal government invested in it. Today, the cost of college has inflated at a rate higher than the price of real estate! 

Solving hunger isn’t simple but there are some key ways:

1) Pay people a living wage. Nearly half of college students we serve have jobs while they balance classes.

2) Make the cost of attending college affordable or free to lower income people.

3) Provide resources, like Swipe Out Hunger and SNAP enrollment on campus. 

Finally, we must end the stigma and change our campus culture. Dozens of students have told us that after accessing the Swipe Out Hunger program, they finally felt like “their campus was made for students like them.” Having supportive services on campus lets students know that we’ve got their backs. 

 Aziz: Thank you for sharing that Rachel. Finally, how can brands get involved to help with what you’re doing?

 Sumekh: Almost every brand wants the attention of college students. We’ve worked with major B2B companies like Sodexo to grow our Swipe program onto the campuses they manage. We’ve also collaborated with CPG brands like Soylent on one-for-one donation campaigns. Many corporations view students as a bunch of rich kids, but the data show that is simply not true. How companies price and market their product should reflect the needs and lifestyles of students on campuses today.

If any brands want to brainstorm how they can better reach students, they can reach out to me at rachel@swipehunger.org



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