Students as co-researchers

Using participatory action research to address college food insecurity




Participatory Action Research, Food Insecurity, Campus Food Security, Student-Centered Research, Higher Education


Studies indicate that college students experience high rates of food insecurity. Growing awareness of food insecurity on college campuses has resulted in efforts by many institutions to address the prob­lem through innovative programs such as food pantries, campus gardens, and educational work­shops. While these initiatives play an important role in facilitating food access, they fall short of meeting students’ needs. There is little research on how students’ experiences or knowledge can inform strategies to address food insecurity, nor is there extensive research on how students view this issue for themselves and their peers.

This study looks at the benefits of engaging students in participatory action research (PAR) to address college food insecurity. PAR is particularly well suited to address campus food insecurity given its tenets of research, reflection, and action. This paper examines how a PAR project, conducted throughout a semester-long community-engaged learning course at the University of San Francisco (USF), resulted in innovative strategies to address college food insecurity. This justice-based research approach deepened students’ understanding of the issue and inspired them to want to change their campus food systems. Students worked to shift the narrative of food insecurity on campus away from an individual experience that carries stigma toward one of community, relationships, and collective action. This study shows the opportunities to address food insecurity not only through immedi­ate needs-based solutions but also through a justice-based research methodology that centers student experiences and knowledge.


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Author Biography

Rachel Brand, University of San Francisco

Doctoral student, School of Education; and adjunct professor, Environmental Studies Department. Rachel Brand is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CFIE), Santa Clara University.

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How to Cite

Brand, R. (2023). Students as co-researchers: Using participatory action research to address college food insecurity. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 12(2), 47–62.



Justice and Equity Approaches to Student Food (In)Security Peer-Reviewed Papers