Supporting Music Students by Addressing Food Insecurity: Another Avenue for Inclusivity

May 1, 2023

Food insecurity is a known problem in higher education that negatively impacts student progress and graduation rates (Saul 2016; Wolfson et al. 2022). Music schools can be isolated from campus activities—many times geographically as well as socially—but food insecurity affects students regardless of major. Some music schools combat food insecurity by performing fundraising concerts for campus or community food pantries and/or having in-house food pantries in the music unit. Raising awareness of food insecurity on campus and being able to point students toward resources are key to supporting music students’ overall academic and musical success.

In recent years, several music schools have addressed food insecurity through fundraising concerts. The University of Southern Mississippi has hosted benefit concerts for their on-campus food pantry, the Eagle’s Nest, which opened in 2016 and serves 50–70 students, faculty, and staff daily (Herrington 2018). At the University of Maryland, the School of Music’s Graduate Fellowship Ensembles performed a benefit recital to collect donations for the College Park Community Food Bank (2022). Since 2013, Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin has participated in Music for Food, a musician-led initiative to fight hunger. All end-of-fall-term concerts at Lawrence University include announcements to raise awareness about hunger and encourage monetary and food donations to a local food pantry (n.d.).

In a college-level committee meeting a year or two ago, my colleagues shared challenges their students were facing outside of class and ways their departments had tried to help. When food insecurity came up, we discussed the on-campus food pantry that opened following the release of a study showing that 43% of our students had been food insecure in 2018 (Burke 2021). Through this conversation, we realized that the campus-wide pantry (and additional visits to campus from a community food bank) was not enough, and that approximately one-quarter of the 22 units in our college had their own, separate formal or informal means of supporting their students who did not have access to enough safe and healthy foods. The music school was one of these units—we had a small space carved out to house food and toiletries, which we advertised to students. We could not keep it stocked—items donated were gone within a day or two. In addition to Oklahoma State University’s Greenwood School of Music, other music units that have in-house food pantries include the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester and Hayes School of Music at Appalachian State University, which houses a campus pantry satellite location. Many more campus-wide food banks exist of which faculty, staff, and students should be aware. Students should not have to choose between buying reeds and sheet music or food, but this is a choice that some students face.

The demographic of college students has shifted to include single parents, older first-time or returning college students, and those of lower socioeconomic status. We see this in music schools as we work to diversify: we actively try to bring in new and different cross-sections of the student population. This is the goal—to expand who can engage with music in a university setting, as major, minor, and non-major participants in our classes, ensembles, and degree programs. However, many of these segments of students, including those of color, with children, and who are financially independent from their parents, are more likely to be food insecure (Bruening et al. 2017). Independence from parents is the strongest indicator of food insecurity, which has been shown to be related to high stress and anxiety and to less successful academic outcomes (Jyoti et al. 2005).

Over the last few years, the greater music world has grappled with racism and inclusivity amid heightened awareness of racial inequity (Ewell 2020; Hadley 2021; Ross 2020; Slatkin et al. 2020; Tsioulcas 2020). Many music schools and organizations have published statements committing to support diversity, equity, and inclusion in music and music studies. As the field of music strives to be increasingly inclusive, that inclusivity must involve an awareness of and advocacy for campus services that seek consistent access to safe and healthy foods for our students. It is not enough to open the doors to new populations of students—music institutions in higher education must attend to students as whole people to ensure their academic and musical success throughout their collegiate careers and beyond.


Bruening, Meg, Katy Argo, Devon Payne-Sturges, and Melissa N. Laska. 2017. “The Struggle Is Real: A Systematic Review of Food Insecurity on Postsecondary Education Campuses.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 117, no. 11: 1767–1791.

Burke, Mack. 2021. “Pete’s Pantry helps OSU students with free food and more.” State Magazine, December 14, 2021.

“College Park Community Food Bank Benefit Recital: UMD School of Music Graduate Fellowship Ensembles.” The Clarice, September 18, 2022. /events/2022/college-park-community-food-bank-benefit-recital-umd-school-of-music-graduate-fellowship.

Ewell, Philip A. 2020. “Confronting Racism and Sexism in American Music Theory.” Music Theory’s White Racial Frame (blog). April 3, 2020–May 8, 2020.

Hadley, Susan. 2021. “Representation matters but is not enough.” Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy 21, no. 2.

Herrington, Charles. 2018. “USM School of Music Hosting Benefit Concert for Eagle’s Nest Food Pantry.” WDAM, November 1, 2018.

Jyoti, Diana F., Edward A. Frongillo, and Sonya J. Jones. 2005. “Food Insecurity Affects School Children's Academic Performance, Weight Gain, and Social Skills.” Journal of Nutrition 135, no. 12: 2831–2839.

Lawrence University. n.d. “Music for Food.” Accessed October 18, 2022.

Ross, Alex. 2020. “Black Scholars Confront White Supremacy in Classical Music.” The New Yorker, September 14, 2020.

Saul, Stephanie. 2016. “Food Pantries Address a Growing Hunger Problem at Colleges.” The New York Times, June 22, 2016.

Slatkin, Leonard, Lina González-Granado, Max Raimi, Weston Sprott, Alex Laing, Joy Payton-Stevens, Titus Underwood, Aubrey Bergauer, Afa Dworkin, Anthony McGill, Edward Yim, and Thomas Wilkins. 2020. “Musicians on How to Bring Racial Equity to Auditions.” Interviews by Zachary Woolfe and Joshua Barone. The New York Times, September 10, 2020.

Tsioulcas, Anastasia. 2020. “Classical Music Tries to Reckon With Racism – On Social Media.” NPR, July 29, 2020.

Wolfson, Julia A., Noura Insolera, Alicia Cohen, and Cindy W. Leung. 2022. “The Effect of Food Insecurity During College on Graduation and Type of Degree Attained: Evidence from a Nationally Representative Longitudinal Survey.” Public Health Nutrition 25, no. 2: 389–97.

588 Last modified on January 9, 2024
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