Earlier this semester, the University of New Mexico’s Basic Needs Project — in collaboration with the New Mexico Higher Education Department — sent out a survey to 27 universities and colleges statewide to collect data on the basic needs of students, faculty and staff.
On May 5, the data collected was presented in the Student Union Building. The event included an appearance by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in support of the work done.
The New Mexico Basic Needs Survey had over 15,000 respondents. Of the respondents, 67% experienced some form of basic need insecurity. 59% experienced housing insecurity and 17% experienced homelessness in the past year. In the past 30 days, 57% had experienced food insecurity.
Sarita Cargas — the lead investigator of the UNM Basic Needs Project — said that while the information was difficult to learn, it was important to understand so that changes can be made.
“We worked hard to have a successful study, and it was successful. But the results have made us heartsick, and for me, sometimes angry. But today, I choose to operate with optimism and think about (how) these results provide us with an incredible opportunity for action,” Cargas said.
The idea for the collaborative survey began less than a year ago, according to Patricia Trujillo, the New Mexico Higher Education Deputy Cabinet Secretary. Now that the study is complete, the Basic Needs Project will use the information to work on changing the way that needs are addressed on a university level, Trujillo said.
“It is so brilliant, and beautiful and powerful to rejoin here again with new partners in this as well as we return to talk about the survey we’ve done — present tense — and how we’re going to use the information we’ve gathered to serve people, specifically higher education institutions across the state,” Trujillo said.
Food and housing insecurity can be major roadblocks that are difficult to overcome and can leave students unable to achieve what they otherwise could, Trujillo said.
“We collected this information because we want to use data as a tool — as a flashlight to illuminate a path forward as opposed to (using) a hammer to strike at an issue,” Trujillo said. “In any research data collection, we value what we count. And what we want to fix, we must measure.”
Lujan Grisham said that the issues of food and housing insecurity are important to address in order to move towards her goal of eliminating poverty in the state of New Mexico, which she hopes to accomplish in one generation.
“There has to be strategic work to solve these problems,” Lujan-Grisham said. “They’re not new problems, but they are exacerbated problems across the spectrum of individuals and families. And when we fix them at colleges and universities, it’s the last stop to fixing them and eradicating generations of poverty. And if there was ever a place that deserves that kind of work, it’s New Mexico.”
New Mexico has had a decrease in its poverty levels over the past few years, however there is still plenty of work to be done, Lujan Grisham said.
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“We had to dig deep and re-recognize that we have a long way to go in New Mexico to eradicate poverty and solve food insecurity,” Lujan Grisham said.
The ultimate goal of the study is to use the information to take initiative to improve student life and ensure that basic needs are being met, Cargas said.
“The main focus of our efforts in the Basic Needs Project is the well-being of our students,” Cargas said. “The student voice is most important.”
Detroit Kallunki is a senior reporter with the Daily Lobo. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DailyLobo.
Weston Quintana contributed reporting to this article.