A Case Study in Denton
This research project was integrated into our Ethnographic and Qualitative Research graduate course at UNT. Our client was UNT’s Dean of Students Office, giving us the task to explore the complex barriers and strategies needed for college students to secure adequate food. Our findings would assist our client’s future plans in designing and managing services like an on-campus food pantry and awareness initiatives. Our team was given a four month timeline for conducting the research, analysis, and presentation for the client. Four of the team members, including myself, prepared presentations at academic conferences the following semester.
Identify and explore how barriers prevent college students from accessing food services
Our team of fourteen graduate students was provided a client-based research project from our instructor. After our client debriefed us about the current food insecurity on campus and its plans on future programming, our team formulated a central research objective: to understand the meaning and experience of food insecurity among UNT students. In addition, we identified specific thematic questions for interviews that could reveal the experiences of being food insecure and how one might or might not utilize food services.
I conducted and recorded semi-structured interviews with self-identified, food insecure UNT students. Another team member and I also conducted a focus group with members of the Dean of Students Office that work with food relief services. These interviews were transcribed and then transferred into a shared qualitative research database.
One other team member and I created a set of code families that the team would use to open code across all transcripts from interviews and focus groups. In pairs, we were assigned a set of codes to analyze, and then cross analyze.
During the data collection and analysis, our team would reconvene weekly to discuss our research process and findings. We drafted a final report and presentation for our client.
The following semester, three other students and I volunteered to orally and visually present our research at the following academic conferences: (1) Society for Applied Anthropology Conference 2015; (2) UNT Graduate Exhibition; and (3) Federation Research Symposium. I designed both the academic poster and Powerpoint presentations at these conferences. We also wrote additional literature reviews with our findings to potentially publish our project to academic journals.
Co-researcher & Co-Presenter
Interviewing, Focus groups, Contextual Inquiry, Transcribing, Open & axial coding, Report writing, Academic poster design
Audio recorders, Atlas.ti, Scribus, Powerpoint
Since this was for a primarily qualitative class, our methodology centered on the understanding the social relationships illustrated from our interviews. Even though our findings could have been supplemented by more epidemiological reports, our inductive and richly qualitative methods were very meaningful.
Empathy played a huge factor throughout the whole project. In the interviews, I had the opportunity to learn more about the personal, daily challenges (and successes). Our participants’ narratives provided raw insight that is sometimes overlooked by heavily quantitative reports.
From a health-focused standpoint, I felt like this project revealed much of the socio-ecological complexities of health among college students. Challenges of social stigma, shame, and distrust in institutions play a role in how students perceive and utilize food-related services. Pressures to stay in school and making the most out of one’s resources seemed to have been prioritized over nutritional nourishment.