Anthropology Researcher Addresses Hunger Issues

UNC Charlotte Anthropology Professor Nicole Peterson has conducted research on the topic of food security within the greater Charlotte area and other locations, including several projects involving students. As an environmental and economic anthropologist, she studies how communities respond to changes in resource availability and how to improve adaptation and resource management.

When the Jamil Niner Student Pantry opened on campus in 2014, Peterson decided to focus a research project on campus. She also has worked in conjunction with student pantry staff to determine the depths of the food insecurity problem on the UNC Charlotte campus. 

In spring 2019, Peterson and her anthropology students surveyed UNC Charlotte students about their access to food, housing, health, transportation and digital services. Peterson obtained a random sample of 6,000 students from the Division of Student Affairs; the survey received 778 responses. Peterson and her students interviewed students to gain deeper insights. Here is what they learned, according to preliminary survey results:

  • 32 percent of UNC Charlotte student respondents are food insecure, which Peterson said is average. Peterson said national research on the topic shows that the percentage of students who are food insecure on college campuses varies from 9 percent to 60 percent; about 12 percent of the general population is food insecure.
  • About 49 percent of the respondents were aware of the Jamil Niner Student Pantry, while about 35 percent were unaware, but said they would be interested in using it. For those who said they were aware of the pantry but had not used it, 29 percent reported they had not done so because they did not want anyone to know.
  • Students who are food insecure are likely having problems accessing other necessities, such as housing. While about 53 percent of respondents to the spring survey said they had a secure place to live over the last year, about 72 percent experienced housing problems during the school year, such as not being able to pay rent or mortgage or not knowing where they were going to sleep, even for one night. About 32 percent experienced these issues over the summer, and nearly 20 percent had problems with housing during winter break. 
  • Food insecurity is an issue that must be tackled by faculty, staff and students. Peterson is currently compiling recommendations on how to address the problem from students who were surveyed, as well as from other campuses.
  • About 70 percent of respondents were unaware of the Swipe Out Hunger program, which lets students donate swipes from their meal plans to other students.
Students from throughout campus volunteer with the student food pantry.

The work to help students who are having trouble accessing food continues on campus. The Division of Student Affairs has started a Swipe Out Hunger Work Group that will consider strategies for eliminating food insecurity on campus. 

Meanwhile, Peterson is continuing her research, as are other colleagues on campus. She is interested in working with more students who want to eradicate hunger on campus. To join in that research, email Peterson at

In a recent effort, a #Giving Tuesday crowdfunding campaign for the Jamil Niner Student Pantry raised $16,226.00 from 233 gifts.

Image: Former student Lauren Whipp (left) conducts food insecurity research with Nicole Peterson.