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Adding a basic needs statement to the course syllabus

Topics/tags: Teaching

Some time this semester, an alum suggested I read an article by Sara Goldrick-Rab entitled Basic needs security and the Syllabus [1]. For those who haven’t read the article, Goldrick-Rab observes that because there are students who face food and housing insecurity and that such insecurity likely affects their performance, we should acknowledge the issues in the syllabus and suggest avenues of support. Goldrick-Rab provided the statement she uses for her graduate class.

Any student who faces challenges securing their food or housing and believes this may affect their performance in the course is urged to contact the Dean of Students for support. Furthermore, please notify the professor if you are comfortable in doing so. This will enable her to provide any resources that she may possess.

She also provides one aimed at undergraduates.

Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live, and believes this may affect their performance in the course, is urged to contact the Dean of Students for support. Furthermore, please notify the professor if you are comfortable in doing so. This will enable her to provide any resources that she may possess.

There are students on Grinnell’s campus who face food insecurity. We have a food pantry in the CRSSJ [2] to help address that need. I know less about housing insecurity on campus, although I do know some students who don’t have a home to go home to outside of Grinnell.

It seems important for me to follow Goldrick-Rab’s lead. I had initially considered adapting the latter statement as is, with a few slight changes. However, I realized that I wanted it in my own words. Unfortunately, this policy falls into the intersection of the categories of things Sam wants to express in his own words and things Sam has difficulty writing well. Perhaps I’ll get there by reflecting on what Goldrick-Rab provides.

Do we need the believes this may affect their performance? How can food or housing insecurity not affect their performance? I suppose that the extra language falls in the category of giving students ownership of their choice of whether, when, and how to get support. But I tend to be more directive. For example, I recall that I’m more directive in my accommodations text. I know that disabilities and basic needs security are very different issues, but the statements should share my intention of encouraging students to connect with the resources that they need.

Let me see. It appears that I have two sets of accommodations text, a short common text that we seem to use in all sections of CSC 151 and a longer text that better expresses my personal practice. I also have a separate statement on my attempts to make the course web accessible, but that’s not relevant here. In any case, the short statement reads

My goal is to help you learn as much as possible in this course; please let me know what I can do meet your learning needs. If you have a disability that requires accommodations, please contact Disability Services. Disability Services will work with you to determine your needs, and will provide you with paperwork outlining the accommodations you require. Please give me this paperwork at least a week before the course activity for which you need accommodations. If this timeline is not feasible for any reason, please contact me as soon as possible and we will work together to find a solution.

The longer statement reads as follows.

I encourage those of you with disabilities, particularly hidden disabilities such as learning disabilities, to come see me about the accommodations and adjustments that I can make to make your learning easier. When making such accommodations and adjustments, I prefer to work with students who have documented disabilities, since such documentation regularly includes not only recommendations for particular accommodations, but also general principles to help me develop other appropriate accommodations and adjustments.

If you have not already done so, you should also discuss your disability with Disability Services. If you think you may have an undocumented learning disability, please speak to me and to Disability Services. However, I will work with you whether or not you have documented the disability. (I believe I am only allowed to use the term accommodation for cases in which students have documented disabilities. Other students will find that I make appropriate adjustments.)

In my experience, some learning difficulties can make learning computer-related topics more difficult, particularly because computers emphasize small details. I also know that many of my favorite and best students have some learning disability and have succeeded. In fact, many have excelled. We’ll all do better if you talk to me about disabilities early. I will make accommodations and adjustments that seem to be appropriate.

Note that I generally find that the accommodations and adjustments that I make for those with learning disabilities are appropriate for all students, so I often incorporate them as part of the normal structure of my courses.

What do these say about my approach [3]? The short statement begins with a rationale of supporting students. I like that. The short one does suggest that it’s only necessary to visit Disability Services if the student needs accommodations. But I believe that there are benefits to visiting with our experts in any case, which is why the longer statement includes If you have not already done so, you should also discuss your disability with disability services.

What else worries me about the version I thought of copying? I tend to avoid passive (is urged) and don’t like people to refer to me in the generic (the professor). I’m not sure about providing resources that [I] may possess. While I have been known to share my financial resources, I see my role as more helping the student navigate College and town resources than providing my own.

So, while I like the sentiment of the original, it does not represent me. Now that I’ve reflected on the important points, let’s see what I can come up with.

Other factors may also affect your ability to thrive in this class. In particular, students who have difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to each every day or who lack a safe and stable place to live may find that their situation affects their performance. I encourage such students to contact the Dean of Students or the CRSSJ for support. You may also notify me, if you feel comfortable doing so, and I will do my best to help you identify and arrange other resources. We can also discuss other ways I can support you.

I’ll need to let that gel a bit before committing to it. I should also chat with folks in Student Affairs and the CRSSJ to determine who they’d like me to put as the contacts in the paragraph [4].

The next question is where to put the statement in the syllabus. The [o]ther factors suggests that I’ve planned it to follow the section on accommodations and adjustments. I tend to title the sections of my syllabus. What title should I use? For now, I think Basic needs security will have to suffice. Again, that’s something I’ll need to let gel for a bit. Fortunately, I have a month or so until classes start [5].

I wonder what mom would have suggested?

Postscript: The latest Campus Memo arrived while I was composing this musing. It begins with the following.

Donations for Student Pantry

The Student Pantry, located in the Center for Religion, Spirituality, and Social Justice, 913 8th Ave., will offer food, toiletries, and cold weather gear to students who may need assistance over winter break. As you may know, many international students remain in Grinnell over the winter break when the dining hall is not open. Additionally, domestic students from non-contiguous states in the U.S. and those who cannot afford to travel or for personal reasons cannot go to a home, spend many weeks finding ways to purchase and prepare food. In recent years, there has been an increase in expressed need for food assistance from our low-income students over the break and throughout the year.

In an effort to aid these students in their need over the break, the Chaplain’s Office will open the pantry beginning on Saturday, Dec. 22. They are accepting donations of (mostly) non-perishable food and other items at the CRSSJ through Thursday, Dec. 20 and again beginning on Jan. 3, 2019. As they are able and eligible, the CRSSJ will assist students in finding other local sources for food, toiletries, and clothing. As you might imagine, these needs do not begin and end with academic breaks. Many low-income students are food insecure throughout the year. The CRSSJ plans to have some supplies in the pantry throughout the spring semester as well.

The CRSSJ is asking for donations for the pantry. The CRSSJ is open and staffed, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. It welcomes your assistance and your opinions as it begins this endeavor. Over the next week or so, the hours for the pantry will be finalized. Check out the list of suggested items for donation [6].

[1] I’d recommend that you read it too.

[2] Center for Religion, Spirituality, and Social Justice.

[3] Or perhaps our approach, since I’m not sure who wrote the short shared statement.

[4] Email sent.

[5] If I count correctly, classes start five weeks from today. That feels way too soon.

[6] Why does Communications hide the pantry list behind a password wall on GrinCo? Here’s the list.

Student Pantry Donations for anytime of the year:

Potatoes (sweet and/or white), rice, milk, cheese, yogurt, butter/margarine, cheese.

Flour, sugar, bread, meat (chicken that can be frozen).

Canned or microwaveable stew, instant potatoes, instant rice, black beans, canned soups, fruit, cereal, peanut butter, granola bars, mac and cheese, canned chicken, canned tuna, tortillas, quinoa, jerky, Bisquick, applesauce, dried fruit, canned fruit, trail mix, Chef Boyardee canned pasta, juices, mayonnaise, mustard.

Personal and non-food items include: tampons, sanitary napkins, soap and/or bath gel, laundry detergent, toothpaste, toothbrush.

Cooking Items: slow cookers, any pots, hot pads, measuring cups/spoons, can opener.

Also, welcomed: recycled storage containers from butter, yogurt, cool whip and the like for left over foods.

Version 1.0 of 2018-12-18.