Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts


Interior Design

First Advisor

Roberto Ventura

Second Advisor

Kristin Carleton

Third Advisor

Alexis Holcombe

Fourth Advisor

Emily Smith

Fifth Advisor

Camden Whitehead

Sixth Advisor

Sara Reed


MOTIVATION In the past, it has been assumed that students enrolled in college are fairly privileged individuals unlikely to face challenges associated with poverty (Haskett et al., 2020). That assumption has been challenged in the past few decades and a survey released last year by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice indicated that 45% of today’s higher education students face food insecurity (Goldrick-Rab et al., 2019). According to VCU’s Dean of Students Office, it is a situation in which a student lacks access to enough nutritious food in order to live a healthy, active life. Food insecurity can negatively impact a student’s academic, personal, physical, mental, and social ability to thrive (Daugherty et al., 2019).

ISSUE Food insecurity is the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food, or the ability to acquire such food in a socially acceptable manner (Payne-Sturges, 2017). This growing health concern has received more attention recently and the number of food pantries on college campuses has increased in response to student food insecurity. However, only a small percentage of food insecure students are actually visiting food pantries and the main barriers to food pantry use are social stigma and embarrassment (El Zein et al., 2018). Food insecurity solutions should be discreet, protect student confidentiality and work to alleviate stigma (Henry, 2017). The need exists for a space on campus that fosters health by providing nourishment and other vital wellness support to cultivate student success. This facility should welcome and support all students in order to avoid isolation or stigma. Design should help to create a sense of dignity for students and raises the question of how an interior environment can be convenient, comfortable, and cater to differences in student population regarding food security?

METHODS Research includes case studies of wellness initiatives and centers across college campuses. Interviews with VCU faculty and students that provide insight on feeding student hunger and promoting healthy living were conducted. An understanding of current university efforts to combat food insecurity was attained by researching current VCU student affair initiatives . A literature review about how design can influence student perception of healthiness of dining halls provided insight on factors that impact eating behaviors and food choices.

RESULTS Studies of teaching kitchens show that they can be viewed as learning laboratories for life skills—incorporating nutrition education, mindfulness training, movement/exercise, and personalized health coaching (Eisenberg, 2018). Preliminary observation of current university efforts to fight food insecurity reveals the presence of a food pantry but access is limited to in-need students only. Observation of dining hall studies concluded that simple signage interventions may be effective to encourage healthy eating behaviors in a college dining setting (Schindler-Ruwisch & Gordon, 2020). Examining the association between food literacy and security showed that focusing on improving food self-efficacy and skills may help people develop resilience and manage food insecurity better (Begley et al., 2019).

REFLECTIONS/CONCLUSIONS This research led to the exploration of a food hub for VCU students that aims to alleviate the presence of food insecurity, increasing healthy food options and education on health topics. A teaching kitchen demonstrates basic nutrition concepts and cooking skills to students, allowing students to develop longterm healthy habits and skills.. A healthy dining café offering exclusively fresh, wholesome foods makes healthy meal choices a more accessible option. A market replaces the idea of a traditional campus food pantry and gives all students access to fresh and nutritious foods, avoiding isolation and stigma. Design can make meaningful differences in the lives of college students and has the ability to influence dignity and comfort in higher education environments.


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