WE over ME: Helping college students chase their dreams
Opinion by Chad Dull, Vice President of Academic Affairs Minnesota State College Southeast
Republican Eagle, March 14, 2020
Many of us have used the cliché "starving college student" over the years, but the truth is unsettling. Earlier this month, the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice released the results of the 2020 #RealCollege survey of students at 28 Minnesota State colleges and universities, including Minnesota State College Southeast. The survey, which is an assessment of basic needs insecurity among college students, shows that 37% of respondents were food insecure in the prior 30 days, 48% were housing insecure in the previous year, and 18% experienced homelessness during the previous year.
Think about it. Almost 40% of students worry about meeting the basic need for food. At MSC Southeast, we want to partner with students in achieving their dreams and changing their lives, but if our students are overwhelmed by dealing with basic survival needs, it's hard to make that happen.
I often refer to our culture of caring at the college and it shows up in the way we have responded to food insecurity on campus. MSC Southeast is a relatively small and close-knit place, and nowhere is this more evident than in our student-led Food Pantries. When I arrived on campus last fall, I was so pleased to see both campuses (Red Wing and Winona) have pantries developed by, and run by, our own students. It is remarkable really, and the embodiment of what we refer to as #MSCSoutheastCares. Students across Minnesota have been talking about food insecurity issues for some time now. Our students chose to act. They conduct food drives and keep shelves stocked with food and other necessities.
These pantries are a place where faculty, staff, and students come together to help fulfill the promise that is MSC Southeast. The culture of care shows in the rules of the pantry: Take what you need, leave what you can. Our pantries are a way of acknowledging that everyone needs help from time to time and that we are committed to supporting one another as partners. The pantries provide grocery bags and dignity by treating adults as adults. You simply "shop" when you need to. These pantries have led to "micro-pantries" in our Learning Resource Centers. We continue to look for ways to make help into hospitality at every turn.
The idea of making help normal and readily available is at the heart of what we are trying to do at MSC Southeast. The college wants to take advantage of our interconnected and relationship-based approach to helping students pursue their dreams. I like to think of it as living the idea of "WE over ME." WE over ME means success at MSC Southeast isn't defined by just one person achieving their goal, but by all of us working together to improve our community. WE over ME means doing whatever is necessary to make chasing those dreams possible.
It might mean a Food Pantry led by students or a place for kids to play while their parents register for classes. Or it might just mean a smiling face when you walk in the door, so you know you aren't just welcome at MSC Southeast, you are wanted. I like to think of our college as a promise to our students and to southeast Minnesota. WE over ME is one of the ways we keep that promise to our students and to each other every day.