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Feeding the Mind, Body & Soul of Black Male College Students: The Reginald F. Lewis Scholars Program

Feeding the Mind, Body & Soul of Black Male College Students: The Reginald F. Lewis Scholars Program
Posted By: D'Juan Hopewell on January 21, 2022

According to recent projections, one out of six children in the United States may experience food insecurity this year. And we shouldn’t assume that their battle against hunger ends when they step on a college campus. In fact, it gets tougher. It’s been estimated that up to 59% of students experience food insecurity during their college career—a jarring fact that has real implications. To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem.

Studies show that food insecure students are less likely to earn A’s and more likely to be delayed in earning their degrees. These studies also highlight that Black and brown students are far more likely to experience food insecurity than white students—meaning food insecurity works to widen the educational gap in America. Fortunately, a new scholarship awarded by Sodexo will help Black male students fight hunger and provide the extra support they need to excel in classrooms throughout the University of Louisiana (UL) System.

The scholarship is part of the broader Reginald F. Lewis Scholars initiative—a cohort program designed to enhance the collegiate experience of Black males across the UL System. The program will recruit Black male students and provide educational programs, mentoring opportunities, and co-curricular experiences. Students selected for the program will be provided three years of support to help pursue academic excellence, strengthen their civic engagement, and enhance their social experience in college.

"This program has the potential to be transformational not only for the scholars but for the state of Louisiana," System President Jim Henderson said. "As the program grows with annual cohorts, we will cultivate new Black male leaders for the state of Louisiana and beyond."

The R.F. Lewis Scholars program also seeks to foster stronger community engagement among participants and various other academic support systems. The opportunity is life changing and yet, many students who receive financial aid rewards often find themselves in need of a good meal. The fight for inclusion doesn’t end at the financial aid office. For many students, it means searching for admission to the dining hall as well.

Recognizing this, Sodexo, the food service company that supports many of the universities within the UL System, decided to partner with the R.F. Lewis Scholars to award a $30,000 scholarship to the first cohort of students.

"When I received the call about the R.F. Lewis program from Interim President at Northwestern State University, Dr. Marcus Jones, I knew that Sodexo had to be a part of this exciting initiative,” said Sodexo Senior VP, Ronald Guillory.

Reginald F. Lewis is best known for becoming the first Black billionaire by owning and building the snack food, beverage, and grocery store conglomerate—TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc. Fittingly, a scholar’s program whose namesake can be attributed to major success in the food processing industry, now finds support from a food services and facilities management company that is committed to feeding the young men who share similar aspirations to Lewis.

“The R.F.

Lewis Scholars program is a great opportunity,” said Northwestern State University student and Scholar recipient, Ebenezer Aggrey. “The partnerships and cooperation between the UL System, Sodexo and everyone involved is so encouraging because they are all truly committed to helping young Black men become more successful.”

Sodexo provides dining services and facilities management at college campuses across the country. The company also makes great strides to invest in the students it serves. With the R.F. Lewis initiative, Sodexo saw an opportunity to support Black male students who show great promise and chose to get involved. For the R.F. Lewis Scholars who will receive the award, it means long nights of studying instead long nights of worrying about where their next meal will come from.

"Sodexo understands that covering the cost of the meal plans alleviates a massive financial burden for the R.F. Scholars,” said District Manager, Charles Diggs. “Finances are the number one reason students leave college, so providing this support guarantees the scholars will receive the nutrition needed to perform at their peak potential."

After receiving the meal plan scholarship, Derrick Varnado said, “This is just another blessing to add to the Scholars program. Being away from home isn’t easy, but this allows me to eat on campus and better prepare for my studies.” Derrick also plans to use this as an opportunity to network on campus and meet others in the dining hall as he pursues his degree in Communication at Northwestern State University.

"Sodexo's partnership with the Regional F. Lewis scholar programs allows us to expand our services outside of the classroom,” said District Manager, Phoebe Cook. “Not only are we committed to nourishing the body, but we also want to create unique living and learning experiences for our scholars. These experiences will allow them to expand their minds, build strong network groups, and help them to navigate natural world obstacles.”

Tuition and fees for colleges in Louisiana average $6,500 a semester. Even if students clear that massive hurdle, however, they still have to eat. The average cost of a meal plan for a student at a four-year institution in the state of Louisiana is $1,500 a semester. For students who come from food insecure households, that number may represent another insurmountable hurdle—and that’s why Sodexo is stepping up to fill this critical need.

"Traditionally, college students are under a lot of pressure academically and many students face even more challenges due to financial constraints and a lack of familial support," said Program Coordinator, Dr. Claire Norris. "Partnering with Sodexo allows our scholars to take a big item off of their plate—paying for food. Knowing our scholars are fed means they are fueled to face the stressors of being a young adult head on."

Getting into college is hard, graduating is even harder, but doing all of this while worrying about where your next meal will come from is simply too much to ask of any student. The problem of hunger on college campuses is very real. The data is convincing, and the need for action is dire.
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