Document Type


Date of Degree Completion

Spring 2022

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Cultural and Environmental Resource Management

Committee Chair

Rodrigo Rentería-Valencia

Second Committee Member

Lene Pedersen

Third Committee Member

J. Hope Amason


Food security issues are being prioritized across college campuses and among student communities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While basic needs services are typically available on campuses, there is still a discrepancy between availability and accessibility. Ellensburg, Washington, has vulnerable food-insecure populations, including Central Washington University (CWU) students, whose access issues involve not only social, cultural, and political dimensions, but also practical considerations like transportation, distance to grocery stores, and affordability of food resources. A central concern of this research is to understand food as constitutive of different forms of symbolic, cultural, and economic capital following Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice to understand how food, circulating through different fields, produces different senses of value (Bourdieu 1977). In this context, this work identifies and documents institutional actors and the role they play in their field of action (field) and sheds light on how resources are distributed to either promote or hinder the success of student food access initiatives and their community impact. This research represents a timely interrogation of national concern by providing original, authentic insights in situ. Through ethnographic research methods that include semi-structured interviewing and participatory observation fieldwork, this case study presents the nuances of a food access landscape situated on a college campus and the challenges of a university seeking to provide students with the resources and basic needs they require to succeed in their academic journey. In identifying the social friction points that deter effective student food access initiatives, higher education leaders can address these barriers and strengthen their partner relationships to better serve their student communities. This research can provide insights for program managers in public-facing roles who seek a broader impact and a more resilient food security program model for their community.