UC Santa Cruz will lead new systemwide basic needs consortium to bring together researchers and practitioners

A student holding a shopping basic with produce and other food in the UCSC free market
The UCSC Center for Economic Justice and Action's new leadership role in basic needs efforts at the system level will also bolster the campus’s multi-pronged approach to basic needs for UCSC students. Photo: Carolyn Lagattuta

UC Santa Cruz’s Blum Center on Poverty, Social Enterprise, and Participatory Governance is being awarded $1.5 million annually from the UC Office of the President (UCOP) for the next five years to grow the center’s focus on students’ basic needs.  

The center will lead a new UC Essential Needs Research, Training, and Promising Practices Consortium, becoming the hub for training and technical assistance programs for basic needs providers at all 10 UC campuses to enhance students’ access to food, housing, and other essential resources. The center will also expand and strengthen the research community around essential needs across the University of California, including through research grants to faculty and professional researchers. The center will also support systemwide evaluations of essential needs programs to identify promising practices for broader adoption.

“It’s an honor for UC Santa Cruz to be selected to house this innovative systemwide initiative,” said the center’s director, Psychology Professor Heather Bullock. “In many ways, this is a major expansion and recognition of basic needs research that our center has been doing for many years related to student housing and food insecurity. Now we’ll be able to support and advance this type of work across the whole UC system.”

This new leadership role in UC basic needs work comes at an exciting time for the center, which is in the midst of relaunching as the UCSC Center for Economic Justice and Action. In addition to its new systemwide work, the center will continue the community-engaged anti-poverty research and programming that it is well known for. A new website will launch this winter to share more information about the transition. 

Meanwhile, the UC Office of the President will continue to provide systemwide policy guidance, data collection, and administrative leadership related to basic needs, including allocating more than $15 million annually across campuses to implement direct service programs to UC students. UCOP previously housed all basic needs training and technical support programs, but moving these programs to the UCSC Center for Economic Justice and Action will allow them to grow and be paired strategically with the new systemwide research and evaluation funding opportunities that the center will launch. 

Cynthia Dávalos, interim associate vice provost for student and equity affairs at the University of California Office of the President, said these changes are an investment in student basic needs that’s part of one of the largest anti-poverty and economic justice efforts in UC’s history: a push to cut the number of UC students experiencing basic needs insecurity in half by 2025. 

“Meeting the basic needs of our students and ensuring that they have the resources they need to achieve their full potential is a university priority of the highest order,” she said. “There is extraordinary work in basic needs taking place all across the University of California, and the UC Santa Cruz Center for Economic Justice and Action will coordinate and advance those efforts in exciting new ways that will multiply our impact.”

UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive said the new partnership will also bolster the campus’s multi-pronged approach to basic needs for UCSC students, which includes field-to-plate food security, access to food pantry resources and dining halls, holistic CalFresh support, student-centered basic needs research and assessment, and the Slug Support program.

“We are working hard to provide a comprehensive safety net for students and close equity gaps in student success,” Larive said. “Hosting a center on campus that’s leading at the UC system level will amplify those efforts, and we look forward to the innovations and improvements that the center will produce.”

UC Santa Cruz Food Systems Education and Research Specialist Tim Galarneu and UC Berkeley Director of Strategic Equity Initiatives Ruben Canedo will co-lead systemwide essential needs training and technical support programs with the UCSC Center for Economic Justice and Action. Galarneu and Canedo previously served as co-chairs for the UC Systemwide Basic Needs Committee with UCOP. Bringing their work into the center will enable them to provide more specialized training to the individual campuses.

Bullock and UC San Francisco Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics Suzanna Martinez will co-lead the research and evaluation aspects of the center’s UC essential needs work. Bullock says the center aims to build a robust learning and research community that will bring together faculty, researchers, and practitioners interested in essential needs issues. The center will release its first call for grant proposals later this fall and will do so on an annual basis moving forward, with a systemwide advisory board reviewing research proposals and making funding decisions. 

The center will also host workshops and events to share research findings and will participate in communities of practice and professional networks related to essential needs in higher education.

“Our goal is for the Center for Economic Justice and Action to be the place where people go, across the UC system and beyond, to learn about innovations in ensuring that all student essential needs are met,” Bullock said. “By building new bridges between practitioners, researchers, and other stakeholders, we can amplify promising practices that will drive this crucial work forward.”