The pandemic’s lingering effects are being felt by some college students struggling to make it to graduation.

A new report focuses on the barriers facing students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

The survey of 5,000 HBCU students found 46% had been food insecure in the last 30 days. Maryland’s Morgan State University, one of the schools surveyed, opened a Food Resource Center on campus in 2018 to address student hunger.

Kevin Banks, vice president for student affairs at Morgan State University who oversees the center, said the challenge to afford food, housing, and the school can affect students’ mental health.

“If you don’t take care of those, then the students cannot focus on the goal at hand, and that is to get their education,” Banks explained. “That plays into their psyche, because we know if you’re hungry if you’re homeless, you can’t even begin to think about doing schoolwork.”

The center aims to educate students on healthy eating and addresses hunger through food distribution days. Banks estimates about 40 students attend the free food distributions, which happen every three weeks.

Terrell Strayhorn, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Virginia Union University and director of the Center for the Study of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, said the racial inequities brought to the forefront by the pandemic, such as access to affordable health care and housing, also play out on HBCU campuses.

“Just because there are basic needs that we all have doesn’t mean that we have equal resources and equal opportunity,” Strayhorn pointed out. “External threats like a pandemic and the historic quest for racial justice in this country impact all of us differently.”

The report is a joint effort by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, and Virginia Union University’s Center for the Study of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. It makes state and federal policy recommendations for lawmakers, including expanding financial aid and emergency aid options for HBCU students.

Emily Scott is a reporter and producer in Philadelphia. She previously worked at WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and is a 2018 graduate of Temple University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.

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