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40% of Miami graduate students unable to afford groceries, resorting to on-campus resources

Graduate students stress as summer nears.
Graduate students stress as summer nears.

Long breaks between paychecks, qualifying for the Talawanda Oxford Pantry and Social Services (TOPSS) and working odd jobs are a reality for many Miami University graduate students during summer break.

Graduate students Isabelle Turner and Deannah Neupert worked to compile a list of resources for graduate students staying in Oxford during the summer months.

“Our last paycheck is going to be May 31 and it's a partial paycheck because we only go two weeks into May,” Neupert said. “We won’t see another guaranteed paycheck until Sept. 6, 2024.”

Miami’s graduate school does offer a $1,500 summer fellowship, but it’s application and ranking-based, so many eligible applicants don’t receive it. Also, domestic students are allowed to apply for any job in the summer, but international student options are limited.

“International students are not permitted to work outside, so they’re seeking jobs on campus over the summer,” Nelchi Prashali, an international graduate student, said. “A lot of them are looking to go home just because they can save on groceries and living expenses, but they also need to make a lot of progress on their research.”

With the price of food rising, groceries are one of the biggest concerns for graduate students. The Graduate Student Association created a survey about this that received more than 280 responses.

Prashali said 40% of all the graduate students who responded said they couldn’t afford groceries or necessary bills, and 26% said they went to the Miami Cares food pantry, TOPSS or other local food resources for help.

The Miami Cares food pantry, soon to be renamed the Miami Cares market, is run by Nancy Stewart, senior associate director of student success. The pantry is located at 112 Nellie Craig Walker Hall and it’s open during university hours, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., all summer, except for July 4, Juneteenth and Memorial Day.

Stewart said Miami Cares Food Pantry partners with Shared Harvest, a food bank in Butler County, and they deliver once a month. The pantry is supplied through food drives, especially a summer drive through the university’s communications and marketing office.

The pantry is available to any Miami student with no paperwork required. Undergraduate and graduate students simply tap their student IDs and can utilize the pantry as much as they want.

“Because of the partnership with Shared Harvest, I have to track that people are using it, so I upload it to a private server for Shared Harvest,” Stewart said. “That information will never be published, and it’s not on the Miami record.”

The pantry also receives weekly donations of fresh bread and pastries from Panera during the fall and spring semesters.

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“It’s about 64% graduate students using the pantry,” Stewart said. “This is a pretty good space especially for graduate students and I think a lot of them can access it easily.”

A team of Miami faculty members, including Stewart and Elise Radina, the associate dean of the graduate school, will be meeting over the summer to assess the needs of graduate students.

“We’ve met once and we’re meeting again in the summer, and we really want to collect the data, so we have someone from TOPSS in the Family Resource Center on the call,” Stewart said. “We want to know what number we are looking at because we can’t fully address a problem until we know the need.”

Another resource available to Miami graduate students is the Food Pick List operated by Nancy Parkinson, a Miami faculty member and licensed dietician. Students can complete the online form choosing two types of food from each nutritional category for the week.

“They have cooking essentials, and they even have supplies and meal kits if you want a recipe to go with what you make,” Stewart said.

Aside from food insecurity, graduate students sometimes face challenges like paying for medical bills or computers for their research. For students in need of assistance, food or non-food related, there is the Student Emergency Support Form.

“I think it’s really important that they know that Miami cares about them and that we want to hear their needs,” Stewart said. “I’m not saying we’re always going to have the perfect answer, but Miami wants to help when we can and when we can’t help we want to steer you in a direction.”