Food Insecurity Part IV: The Research

The fall semester is over which means my Health Communication class is finished.

Remember reading here, here and here?

We entered the research stage three weeks ago, and I finished my research last Thursday. We present our findings on Friday, but I’ll let you have a sneak peek.

The hunger awareness initiative was developed to determine the nature and scope of food security within the WSU community. My research specifically focused on graduate students, including graduate teaching assistants.

I have a soft spot for my fellow grad students.

The class collected data in the form of “hunger stories” by administering a survey and directing focus group discussions. The people who responded to the survey and/or participated in the focus groups volunteered to do so. We had no other incentive than getting information from our population. All we could do was ask.

The response was not as large as I had hoped, and certainly not as large as many of my classmates hoped, but our sample was large enough to collect at least five “hunger stories” for each research goal.

My goal was to determine if graduate students at WSU suffered from food security issues and hunger. I chose five graduate students, three of whom were graduate teaching assistants. I knew they were graduate students because of the information they provided. Otherwise, the survey and discussions were confidential.

No names. No signatures.

And that’s how it has to be done. If you want to do community-based ground-up research, you must act as an investigator – interviewing, researching, reporting – in an attempt to find out if a problem really exists. The population tells you a problem exists; you don’t tell them.

Our research was not quantitative; it was qualitative.

I took the five “hunger stories” and applied an inductive coding technique using thematic analysis to discover similarities among the stories.

I let the data speak for itself, and I found five overall themes in the data: family, living minimally, school, jobs and food assistance.

What I found surprised me.

Two categories existed under family: support and no support. The most interesting of which I titled “independence” and categorized under no family support. For one graduate student, it was more important to do it on her own than to ask for help.

Some respondents said they had grown up poor or had lived through hard times and just knew how to spend within their means. One graduate student, whose reported yearly income was not high, claimed she felt she earned enough to feel secure by living minimally.

School was important to every student in my sample. School was paramount. School was the solution, and school was the problem.

Jobs came up in every story, too. Some graduate students worked more than one part-time job to make ends meet while in school. One graduate student couldn’t find work because of his degree choice: When you want to be a doctor, you cannot do anything else. Layoffs and lost businesses also appeared in the research.

Finally, food assistance appeared in differing degrees and manners. Some students felt they did not deserve; others felt that they didn’t need it. Some were jealous of people who had it. Others were annoyed with the people who used it. Food assistance programs, in this country, are necessary and can help feed so many hungry people, but the people will not talk openly and honestly about their needs.

How can a food assistance program work when we cannot find the people who need it?

That’s what our initiative was about. Find the people who need the help and figuring out how to help them. I hope my research and my continued work with this information helps identify a solution.

I know WSU graduate students are hungry. I know WSU undergrads are hungry. I know there are people in Wichita community who are hungry.

I want to find a way to feed them.