Capilouto addresses hunger-striking students in campus-wide email


UK President Eli Capilouto. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Rick Childress

In a campus-wide email sent out Thursday afternoon, UK President Eli Capilouto addressed growing concerns over food and housing insecurity and the students who are refusing to eat until their demands for a Basic Needs Center are met.

Members of SSTOP Hunger, a student group that is pushing UK to build a fully staffed and fully funded on-campus location that would distribute funds and resources to students who struggle to make ends meet, have vowed not to eat until UK agrees to build the location which they’ve coined as the Basic Needs Center. 

Last night, the group announced that six of its members will only drink water until their demands are met. Alexis Lane, a SSTOP Hunger member who said she was only drinking water, told the Kernel Thursday that 50 other students “will be altering their diet in some way” until the group’s needs are met.

The striking students were present outside the White Hall Classroom building during the day on Thursday.

Capilouto wrote that university officials had made contact with the striking students.

“We have reached out to them to show our concern for their wellness during this time and to assist them in any way we can,” Capilouto wrote. 

In the rest of the letter, Capilouto writes of the university’s current efforts to combat food insecurity on campus. 

The hours of the Big Blue Pantry, an on-campus resource designed to provide food insecure students with free access to donated foods and other supplies, will be increased from 20 hours a week to 48 hours a week.

The Pantry’s new hours will be 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on weekends.

The university has provided close to 4,000 free meal vouchers this semester and is prepared to give more, Capilouto wrote.

UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said that those vouchers are not part of the Swipe Ahead program, a program which allowed students to donate their unused campus dining meal swipes for use by other students who were food insecure. SSTOP Hunger, the Student Government Association and UK Dining partnered on the Swipe Ahead program.

UK is also continuing to secure more funding for the Provost Persistence Fund, a program which gives one-time grants to students.

Capilouto also wrote of UK’s future efforts, including the creation of a one-stop  shop basic needs website that would serve as a coordinator and directory for the campus resources available to students.

The university is also conducting its own survey in April to assess levels of campus food insecurity and basic needs among students on campus.

A survey conducted in 2017 by UK researchers is one of the reasons that SSTOP Hunger’s Basic Needs campaign exists. That survey, which interviewed 2,000 UK students, concluded that 43 percent of students suffer from food insecurity and 8 percent suffer from housing insecurity.

The survey defines food insecurity as essentially struggling to afford both groceries and rent or not being able to afford a nutritious diet. About 19 percent of those surveyed reported being “hungry, meaning they experienced very low food security.”

The Lexington Herald-Leader reported Thursday that the survey’s findings were similar to a national report which found that about 36 percent of four-year college students reported “low” or “very low” food security.

UK officials have doubted the survey. UK spokesperson Jay Blanton told the Kernel in previous statements that the survey had design issues and lacked a representative sample of the student population.

“These next steps are a beginning, not an end. This is a journey we are on –  as a campus community and as compassionate, caring citizens in a larger world,” Capilouto wrote towards the end of the letter.