A Basic Needs Syllabus Clause

Guest Contributor Sara Goldrick-Rab is a Professor of Higher Education Policy and Sociology at Temple. She describes herself as “a scholar-activist with a singular mission: to identify novel approaches to making higher education the accessible and affordable place that families want and need it to be.”

We invited her to write an eBulletin when we learned of her latest effort to help students facing food and housing insecurity. We hope you will consider including the syllabus clause she has crafted to support her work in identifying and serving students in need.

Dear Temple colleagues,

It’s shame that anyone needs a reminder of the cold hard fact that adequate nutritious food and a good night’s sleep are required for learning college material, but let’s be honest — there’s plenty of evidence that much of higher education is in the dark. Part of the research I do at Temple is about how we can support every learner’s need for food and housing in an age of harsh and unforgiving inequality and a shredded safety net.

This is my first fall teaching at Temple. My course is for master’s degree students in our Higher Education program, and it is meant to equip them with the skills they need to attend to equity when working on college access and success. We’ll be working to unpack concepts such as “college readiness,” exploring the dimensions of inequality that shape our students’ lives, and discuss actions that practitioners can take when preparing students for college and supporting them while they attend college. Several weeks will be spent discussing the impacts of poverty and systemic racism on college outcomes and ways to use both internal collaborations and strategic external partnerships to ensure that such challenges to contain the harm such things do to the odds that students will complete degrees.

I thought the syllabus was finally finished, having just added the series of requisite College of Education policies (on things like plagiarism, attendance, etc.), when suddenly I realized that something was missing. And then I began crafting a statement on basic needs security, appending it to the set of policies. This was a first for me, but it felt necessary and internally consistent with the course. Here’s what it says:

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 CARE Team in the Dean of Students Office for support.  The CARE Team web address is careteam.temple.edu.  Furthermore, please notify me if you are comfortable in doing so. This will enable me to provide any other resources that I may possess.

I added those four sentences because acknowledging that all students (including graduate students) face real financial challenges that could affect how they do in class, lets students know that I know this and care a lot about it, and help direct them to both support and resources. At the same time, I am not prepared to field every request and know that the CARE Team is terrific and ready to help.

Is this the right thing to do? Will it also help accomplish another goal — communicating to my students that a classroom of learners is, in my mind, a sort of family? Is this language exactly right? Will they respond to it as intended? I don’t know. But in this day and age, it sure seems worth the shot.

Please join me and support your students. And if you do modify your syllabus, please share that in this quick survey! Finally, if this topic interests you and you want to learn more, come to the #RealCollege conference I am hosting on campus this fall.

Much thanks,

Sara Goldrick-Rab

Professor of Higher Education Policy and Sociology

Temple University