UC regents discuss basic needs, COVID-19 implications at virtual meeting

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The UC Board of Regents discussed basic needs and the implications of the COVID-19, colloquially known as the coronavirus, pandemic Monday at its first day of meetings this week.

The meeting was held online in response to public health recommendations to practice social distancing to minimize transmission of COVID-19. During the meeting, the regents heard public comments, examined the impact of food and housing insecurity on students and discussed preliminary findings from a Special Committee on Basic Needs report.

“I really want to underscore the comments about unique and heightened basic needs concerns happening right now because of the UC’s response to COVID-19,” said Student Regent Hayley Weddle, chair of the Special Committee on Basic Needs, at the meeting. “I welcome regents to raise questions and comments related to basic needs implications related to COVID-19 during either discussion.”

Pamela Brown, vice president of UC Institutional Research and Academic Planning, presented data on the gaps between students facing housing and food insecurity and those who do not. During the presentation, Brown explained how these gaps impacted first-year persistence rates and timely graduation rates for freshmen and transfer students.

The board also brought up concerns about the “seismic” impact that COVID-19 is having on students, especially those already facing basic-needs insecurity. Many regents suggested ideas that could be implemented quickly, including partnering with local food banks and increasing food pantry access off-campus.

UC Vice Provost for Diversity and Engagement and Chief Outreach Officer Yvette Gullatt emphasized that most campuses are not closed and that “essential services” such as basic needs centers and resources would remain open.

“The campuses and basic needs centers are all working to ensure that we have very, very seamless support for students and that they feel that they are being taken care of to the extent that we can in these times,” Gullatt said at the meeting. “I want to acknowledge that things are very fluid.”

The regents also discussed an update on a report from the Special Committee on Basic Needs. The finished report will include an outline of the policy framework that impacts students’ basic needs, the impact of housing and food insecurity on student academic success and well-being, as well as the conclusions and recommendations from the special committee on reducing basic-need insecurity for students.

UC Regent Laphonza Butler suggested outlining specific impacted groups — such as parents, undocumented students and students impacted by the criminal system — as they may be facing acute basic-needs insecurity that may not be addressed on campuses. Other suggestions included adding hygiene into the scope of basic needs, as well as including student narratives and COVID-19 basic-need responses in the final report.

“I’m excited about being able to get feedback, because the whole point of doing things this early is so that we can make the document as meaningful as possible,” Weddle said at the meeting.

Contact Maria Young at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maria_myoung.