September 11, 2017Vol. 48, Issue 1

'It Starts With Awareness'

During her convocation on August 17, President Hutchinson talked about unmet basic student needs and what Chico State is doing to help. (Jason Halley/University Photographer)

Welcome back, everyone! I trust you took time to relax, recharge, and reflect over the summer in preparation for this academic year. Our students have returned to campus eager to pursue their education. We—faculty and staff—have reconvened as one University prepared to structure student learning in ways that are student-focused, engaged, and experience-based. Together, let’s renew our commitment to building diverse and inclusive communities of excellence, with an eye toward academic rigor and democratic engagement.

I pondered the purpose of higher education this summer against a backdrop of global instability, fractured politics, national unrest, and extraordinary natural disasters. I was reminded that education for a democratic citizenship truly does matter, especially in these turbulent times. Authors of the A Crucible Moment report issued a warning similar to the one expressed in the 1998 National Commission on Civic Renewal: “In a time that cries out for civic action, we are in danger of becoming a nation of spectators.”

I am proud and confident in my knowledge that here at Chico State, we never sit on the sidelines when hard work is calling. And there has never been a more important time for colleges and universities to prepare students to become enlightened, engaged, and productive citizens of our American democracy.

I hope you will join me in strengthening our collective belief that higher education is a “public good” and not a “private benefit.” Inspired by the works of educational scholars, we must continue to educate the whole person and promote an egalitarian society. I also remind you that civic learning and democratic engagement are not limited to American government and history courses, but may be integrated into all academic disciplines. Perhaps, a faculty learning community will emerge to consider ways that we might integrate civic learning and democratic principles across disciplines. I challenge us to do more. Charles N. Quigley, executive director of the Center for Civic Education, said “Each generation must work to preserve the fundamental values and principles of its heritage . . . to narrow the gap between the ideals of this nation and the reality of the daily lives of its people.”

And yet, we see that very gap here on our campus. As we look to do more, I cannot help but turn my attention to our students with unmet basic needs. Although enthusiastic for the fall semester, many students face challenges beyond this week’s quiz or lab report. In fact, a recent Chico State student survey found that 46 percent of respondents suffered from low to very low food security. Systemwide, it is estimated that 1 in 10 CSU students live in unstable housing situations. The numbers are inexcusable.

It seems to me that helping all students secure basic needs should be our first priority. No student should have to decide between paying for food and buying textbooks. No student should have to decide between paying rent and paying for their education. As we support our changing student demographic, work together to ensure accessibility within higher education, and promote a college degree as a path to social mobility, meeting students’ basic needs must come first. What role can faculty and staff play? It starts with awareness:

  • Take notice.
  • Have a conversation.
  • Make a referral to connect students with resources.

“You just need to follow your instincts,” says Kathleen Moroney, founder of the Hungry Wildcat Pantry, which has served more than 2,500 students since 2013. “Make yourself available for them to tell their story.”

This advice is heard often among those who lead efforts to meet student needs. Sometimes while addressing one need, says Dan Herbert, director of Off-Campus Student Services, another issue surfaces. A former foster youth has no funds for a rental deposit, but also lacks a cosigner to help lease an apartment. A student who comes in to apply for CalFresh to get help buying food happens to also be sleeping on a friend’s sofa.

The Hungry Wildcat Pantry is in the process of formalizing its intake and referral process to best direct students to where they will be most effectively served. The pantry is part of the larger Chico State Basic Needs Project, a collaborative effort of campus and community-based programs. Their goal is aspirational yet simple: Improve student success by ensuring that no student is hungry or homeless.

At Chico State, we consider ourselves family. We celebrate each other’s triumphs, provide reassurances in times of trouble, and respond in times of need. Just as the better face of America has shown up in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the rescinding of the federal DACA program, so too do we find that caring and compassionate face on our campus.

We may wrestle over differences and clash with one another over opinions and politics, but when there is an emergency or a dire need, we come together for the common good. I commend our faculty, who came forward with a substantial gift to end food and housing insecurity, and our students, who themselves raised $13,000 to support their peers in need.  

The work we do teaching and serving our students is noble. We transform lives and shape the future. You can support the ongoing operational expenses of the Basic Needs Project through the Chico Cares Campaign, which has set a goal of raising $50,000 by November 28. Join me. Together, we will achieve this goal.

Gayle E. Hutchinson


Cover art of the book Spectators: Flash Fictions, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.


Rob Davidson, English, had his third book, Spectators: Flash Fictions, published in June and it was nominated by the press, Five Oaks, for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Read more.

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