“Be Loud”: A conversation with Professor Tanya Rawal on food insecurity

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Thomas Holguin/HIGHLANDER

To continue our coverage of UC Riverside’s 62 percent food insecurity rate, the Highlander sat down with Professor of Gender and Sexuality Tanya Rawal to discuss food scarcity, race and food security, as well as ideas for how students can be more active in solving issues related to hunger.

In addition to her prominent work as a pro-immigration activist through her campaign #Sareenotsorry, Rawal has been a vocal supporter for students struggling with food insecurity on campus since her arrival in 2015 by openly critiquing, in her view, a generational and class disunion between students and faculty on the UCR campus. “I think the disconnect, is that a lot of our faculty” may forget about “class struggle because as soon as you come up and you get your job you want to forget the days of having to eat ramen.”

Rawal went on to say that, unlike race, one can change their class status and those who have “worked really hard and they get out of it (lower class), they think ‘well, the next generation can do that too.’” She also described the age difference between faculty and students, explaining that for older faculty, there were more jobs, food was cheaper, they knew they could get quality jobs, unlike students now, and did not have as much student debt.

According to a study conducted by the University of California entitled, “Student Food Access and Security Study,” food insecurity rates system-wide are particularly high among people of color, showing that Hispanic and non-Hispanic black students experience food insecurity at 59 and 60 percent, respectively. Other groups, such as Asians and whites, stand at 41 and 30 percent, respectively.

“you need to keep the momentum up and only in doing that can you challenge the system a little more each time… [Just] be loud.”

Rawal attributes this discrepancy to the structural issues within society. “I would say that reflects what you see nationally,” stated Rawal. “The black and Latino communities are dealing with poverty on a much higher rate in this country and dealing with state violence, political violence at a much higher rate (…) I wouldn’t expect anything different considering our prison system, considering everything else.” She expressed belief that the racial imbalance within food insecurity will continue to be a structural issue unless class difference is seen as another factor in decisions based on diversity.

Rawal then discussed her view of Marxism and how she believes, if brought into a contemporary context, Marxist theory can solve these class differences. She elaborated, “to understand how to critique capitalism, you have to read Marx and figure out what those questions are,” explaining that class is an embedded component in capitalist systems.

When asked why capitalism is not the solution for the food insecurity problem, Rawal said, “Capitalism could maybe work but we’re not in a capitalist society, we’re in a neoliberal society.” She continued by explaining how neoliberalism is like “capitalism on drugs” which includes “privatization, deregulation so you now have corporate colonialism which is what neoliberalism is to me.” She said that food insecurity should be looked at in part through a sustainability perspective and neoliberalism “takes out a place for people to come together, for commons to exist, for there to be shared experiences, for there to be healthy

Courtesy of Tanya Rawal — In addition to advocating for students, Rawal has been an outspoken supporter for immigrants and refugees through her campaign #sareenotsorry.

 

communities to work together.”

She said the solution to the food insecurity problem is hiring faculty of diverse classes by hiring from lower-tier schools as well as faculty from Ivy League universities. Another solution, she suggested, is “putting UCR graduates in faculty positions at UCR would actually make a lot of sense for this particular campus” and that if there is “a relationship built between the faculty and the students, the food insecurity issue can also be solved.” She encouraged faculty to integrate the R’Garden and R’Pantry into their classrooms and to get involved with both organizations themselves.

Rawal encouraged faculty to join students in protesting corporate food at UCR, stating, “Faculty need to push back against the corporate takeover of food on campus” and align themselves with the issue. She explained that students need to go and talk with their professors about issues on campus and gain their support. Rawal went on to say that students can set up boycotts, raise awareness and “compete with whatever you have (corporate businesses) on campus and have students selling coffee for fifty cents a cup.” It is one thing to protest, says Rawal, but “you need to keep the momentum up and only in doing that can you challenge the system a little more each time.” Rawal declared that it is integral for students to begin to “be loud.”

 

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