From Alumni Bulletin - January 23, 2019
Jenna Rochelle ’18 started researching the experiences of low-income students on Kenyon’s campus, and ended up uncovering a hidden community. Her anthropology honors thesis, “Born with a Plastic Spoon in Mouth: Food in the Experience of Low Income Students,” examined the everyday marginalization of low-income Kenyon students, particularly in their interactions with food. Rochelle said she chose to explore food because it is an everyday necessity that is laden with significant cultural meaning. What we eat, how we eat and how we talk about food reveals a great deal about our backgrounds, particularly class backgrounds. Rochelle was awarded highest honors for her research, along with the Margaret Mead Award in Anthropology, the Middle Path Partnership Award for Community Service and the Franklin Miller award.
Here are some of her key findings.
- The majority of Kenyon students prioritize eating organic food, pay more for certain brands that they believe will be higher quality, dislike fast food and frequently complain about the food served in Peirce Dining Hall. In contrast, low-income students tend to view organic food as unnecessary, enjoy fast food and appreciate the constant supply of food at Peirce.
- Students primarily experience marginalization with food in three categories: eating off-campus with friends, gratitude toward Peirce and conversations about previous food experiences and preferences.
- The isolation experienced by low-income students is correlated with racial/ethnic identity, pre-collegiate experiences and overall sense of community.
- White students were more likely to experience intense isolation and actively change their spending habits or acquire on-campus jobs to try and fit in with their peers. Students of color were more likely to actively and vocally resist mainstream food preferences and felt comfortable turning down offers to eat off-campus. While they experienced isolation, they often noted strong communities of friends from similar class or racial/ethnic backgrounds.
- Students who participated in pre-college programs that exposed them to affluent students at a younger age, as well as a wide variety of food, were less likely to feel isolated.
- The correlation between racial identity and experienced isolation is largely a result of the lack of institutional programming to address the needs of low-income students. White low-income students often knew no one from a similar class background and were rarely informed of the resources available to them through the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI). Students of color found community through racial/ethnic groups on campus, such as the Black Student Union or Adelante. They were also more connected to resources available through ODEI.