Starving Student Is No Longer A Euphemism But A Serious Reality

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We all have heard the term the “starving student”, but typically it’s a reference to playfully tease a student who has limited pocket money. However, the starving student is no longer a playful joke, but rather a serious reality many 20-something year old college students face. A recent study commissioned by Cal State University (CSU) Chancellor Timothy P. White reveals that one in 10 Cal State students are homeless, and one in five do not have access to sufficient food.

The findings of the study have been shocking to administrators, faculty, and the public alike. For social work students at California State University, Los Angeles (Cal State LA) this week’s breaking news comes as no surprise.

This spring, Cal State LA’s Association of Student Social Workers hosted Box City, a two-day event in which students and faculty, simulated street-dwelling by assembling boxes and tents at the university campus. Over the course of the night, they raised awareness and donations for homelessness in Los Angeles while simultaneously, gaining empathy and understanding by experiencing what it is like to be without a home for a night.

What started as an event to raise awareness on homelessness occurring in the neighboring communities turned into something much more.

As the outreach officer for ASSW, I assisted in promoting the event. As I began to reach out to more and more students about issues of homelessness and the reasons why to attend Box City, the more I began to recognize that housing and food insecurities was not unfamiliar territory for students at Cal State LA. Students began sharing with me their own personal stories of nights without a shelter, and how they would attend club meetings on campus because they were assured a free meal.

It was ironic. Here we were, venturing off to help the very issue that was right at our front door step. Homelessness was happening right in front of us, and many of us did not see it.

During the course of the Box City we invited a student to speak on his experience of being homeless. When the event concluded, a few students who have also faced housing and food insecurities privately thanked ASSW for hosting the event and showing them they were not alone and that people cared about their wellbeing.

I am going to reiterate that this event was not initially aimed for the students at Cal State LA. During the planning process of Box City we were unaware of the homeless population on campus. However, we are thankful we were able to bring awareness on this invisible issue amongst us on campus: homeless students.

I think we can all agree that with today’s fast-paced world juggling work, academics, and a personal life can make pursuing a higher degree difficult, but for one in 10 CSU students they also have to worry whether or not they will have a safe place to sleep and a nutritional meal to fuel their body.

Currently, CSU campuses have enacted their own initiatives on how to address students’ need for housing and food security; however, this is resulting in many campuses falling short from providing needed services.

To ensure that students’ needs are met, we need to advocate for a Cal State University (CSU) system wide commitment policy that addresses the housing and food insecurities, develop a program in which there is a single point of contact to facilitate connections to services on and off campus, and assign ASI and students to have a lead role in the outreach to destigmatize assistance to food and housing.

Today, many students don’t speak out about their housing and food instability because of fear of being stigmatized by peers, unaware of how to receive assistance, and the lack of assistance available. Faculty, administrators, and Social Work departments at CSUs need to work together to create solutions, and give a voice for the students at CSUs whose basic needs are not being met.

Helping College Students and Their Parents Avoid Liability

The transition to college is one of the most exciting and stressful moments in the lives of both children and parents.  Suddenly, the newly-fledged adult is responsible for making his or her own decisions about safety, health, and behavior – often with little or no parental input.

caution liabilityWhile few college students list “avoiding lawsuits” among their top college concerns, college does open up new risks when it comes to personal liability.  Here’s what college students and parents need to know in order to protect themselves:

Auto Accidents

When one driver causes a car accident, legal responsibility for the accident begins with that driver.  But it doesn’t always end there.

While parents cannot be held automatically responsible for anything their child does solely because they are the child’s parents, they may be held liable for an accident in a situation in which the parent had a legal duty of care that he or she failed to meet.  A few situations in which a parent might be responsible for an accident include:

  • Entrusting a child with an automobile, when the parent knows the child is reckless, incompetent, or not legally licensed to drive it,
  • Failing to supervise a child who then causes injury to another,
  • Being the owner of a vehicle involved in an accident caused by the driver.

Because liability for a car accident often follows the car’s owner, both college students who own their own vehicles and parents who own their student’s car can protect themselves by:

  • Not loaning vehicles to friends.  The owner may become liable even if he or she had nothing to do with the friend’s behavior.
  • Avoiding driving abroad, in inclement weather, or when under the influence of any substance.  Check out the university’s public transportation or “dial a ride” options.

Partying

Most college students – and many adults – consider partying an integral part of the college experience.  But parties pose risks if students and their parents don’t take precautions.

  • Make a guest list.  A guest list might seem antithetical to every laid-back, feel-good ideal a party stands for.  But inviting people you trust and knowing who should be there helps both college students and their parents avoid becoming responsible for an accident that could have been prevented.
  • Be a parent, not a friend.  Someone has to be the “backstop” for any potential bad decisions, and when a party is in a parent’s home, that person is the parent.  Institute a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking and drunk driving, and don’t be afraid to call an immediate halt to a party if these rules are violated.  Your kids will forgive you, but the effects of a serious accident may linger forever.

Credit Card Liability

It used to be easy for college students to get credit cards.  Now, with the recent passage of the Credit Card Act, students under age 21 with no income whose parents do not co-sign for them cannot get a credit card at all.  This change has helped protect many students, but puts parents on the line.

Parents who decide to co-sign can help limit their liability by keeping the credit limit low and setting clear ground rules for the card’s use: emergencies and school expenses only.  Remind students that the charges are their responsibility, and that a credit card is not a free pass for shopping sprees.

By sticking to the credit limit and paying off the balance in full each month, students protect themselves, too.  Credit card interest builds up fast, and an unpaid card offers only a fast track into collections and a decimated credit score. With a few simple steps, both students and parents can enjoy the college years without the burden of a lawsuit.  College is an investment in the future – don’t let an avoidable mistake send all that hard work to waste.

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