Temple professor fights for students’ basic needs

Sara Goldrick-Rab’s a national leader on student issues related to housing and food insecurity and continues to use research and policy to support students during the pandemic.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, a sociology professor, is a national leader on college accessibility. | PAT ROBINSON / COURTESY

For more than fifteen years, Sara Goldrick-Rab’s been an advocate for college students.

Goldrick-Rab, a sociology professor, has written policy proposals for legislators in Washington D.C. since 2006. In 2018, she founded the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, a research-based advocacy group at Temple University that researches college students’ access to basic needs, like housing and food. 

To her, this last year during the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the problems students are facing — making now a time for bolder action.

In June 2020, the Hope Center released the #RealCollege During the Pandemic report about how the pandemic negatively affected students’ access to basic needs,  The Temple News reported. The survey found that 15 percent of student respondents at four-year colleges were experiencing homelessness because of the pandemic and 38 percent experienced food insecurity.

One of her recent efforts was pushing for college students to be eligible for the next round of stimulus checks through opinion pieces in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Atlantic and a statement condemning the first two stimulus bills on the Hope Center’s website. 

President Joe Biden signed The American Rescue Plan Act on March 11, The Temple News reported.

“That’s huge, right, that took three times to get that damn thing done,” Goldrick-Rab said. “We have also been working very hard on emergency aid, and making sure that the way colleges give it out, students are able to use it for the needs they have. So whether that’s like a utility bill, you know, so that when the heating expenses were really high this winter, right, or you had to pay rent, or you had to travel to get home.”

Goldrick-Rab advocates for Philadelphia students by making sure they know what resources are available to them, like the Depaul USA house on Sprague Street near Stafford Avenue, which provides housing for students experiencing homelessness, the Inquirer reported.  

Colleges need to invest in mental health care and prioritize it for the upcoming fall semester to help students cope with the effects of the pandemic, she said. 

“It’s very expensive, that kind of support,” Goldrick-Rab said. “I think that the thing is we’re going to have to make it a priority, it’s going to have to be a top priority because otherwise students are just not going to even be paying attention in classes.”

Nicholas Carmack, a 2020 sociology alumnus, took Sociology of Education with Goldrick-Rab and is now a research and practice assistant at the Hope Center. He assists the research team with day-to-day tasks like background research. 

When he was her student, Goldrick-Rab was understanding of what he was going through when Temple first moved online due to the pandemic, Carmack said. 

“There was one time I was like ‘Hey [Goldrick-Rab], I’m sorry I haven’t turned in my midterm yet. I want to let you know I’ve been really stressed out,’ and, you know, got kind of vulnerable with her and she was like ‘Hey don’t worry about it, worry about the things that you’re stressed out about first,’” Carmack added. 

Richard Deeg, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said Goldrick-Rab makes it easy for students to think about issues related to college accessibility because she introduces it to them from their viewpoint.

“She’s very energetic. She has a lot of passion for the subject. She’s very articulate and she really thinks about these issues from this perspective of students,” Deeg said.

Goldrick-Rab is gearing up to teach undergraduate classes about college debt and activism in the fall, she said. 

“I could easily leave academia, you know, and do something else and the reason I can’t is because I would miss you students like crazy,” Goldrick-Rab said. 

Christina Holley, a junior sociology major, also took Sociology of Education with Goldrick-Rab and is currently a research intern for the Hope Center. Her experiences with Goldrick-Rab have been “nothing short of amazing,” she said.  

“She has helped me to find different financial resources such as scholarships and financial aid, unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to apply last semester,” Holley wrote in an email to the Temple News. “However she also is a huge advocate of things such as The National College Emergency Fund which has been awarded to me through Temple University and helps me tremendously with my household needs.”

The Hope Center started a Student Leadership Advisory Council in the organization last year to make sure there are students involved in the work that impacts their lives, Goldrick-Rab said.

She expects the center’s staff to double, possibly triple in size, in the next few years, Goldrick-Rab added.

“I think, you know, I think that the work that we’re doing is going to be increasingly central to the survival of students in higher ed. So I want to stick with it for that ride,” Goldrick-Rab said. 

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Nicholas Carmack’s title at the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice. Carmack is a research and practice assistant.

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