Skip to main content

Rashida Crutchfield, Ed.D.

Faculty | Long Beach

“Students know that going to college means they won’t be living paycheck to paycheck for the rest of their lives.”

CSU Long Beach assistant professor Dr. Rashida Crutchfield’s ground-breaking research is defining a national movement to help college students dealing with homelessness and hunger.

​In 2009, Rashida Crutchfield, Ed.D., then a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership program at California State University, Long Beach, had just decided what she wanted to write her dissertation on. Her subject? College students facing homelessness.

So she did what most of us would do: She scoured the Web to see what was out there.

"There was nothing coming up in my searches," recalls Dr. Crutchfield. "I thought, This can't be right. Am I doing something wrong? Did I not use the right keywords?"

In fact, she soon learned, no one had ever really studied college students struggling with homelessness and hunger. Crutchfield would be one of the first to dive into the issue, not knowing the impact her research would have on college students worldwide.

Play Rashidas Profile Videox

'I Expected a Homeless Shelter to be Depressing and Sad'

Dr. Crutchfield first worked with homeless college-age youth early in her career when she was a volunteer coordinator at Covenant House California in Hollywood.

"When I first arrived at Covenant House, I was pretty naive because I expected a homeless shelter to be depressing and sad. But this one was very beautiful and just this warm, welcoming place to be," she recalls. "I came across a number of residents who were enrolling in college and taking their courses, but they were having to combat all of these setbacks in college environments."

A life spent in service to others and advocating for social justice may have seemed inevitable for Crutchfield, a native of Pittsburgh. "All of this, for me, is rooted in my familial experience," she explains.

"My mother was a high school teacher who was really passionate about working in areas where students didn't have what they needed," she says. "My father was a journalist at a time when there weren't black journalists and he wanted to make sure people had a voice."

A graduate of CSU Long Beach's undergraduate research and evaluation program, Crutchfield came back to the campus for her doctorate degree.

She says she's always loved Long Beach's diversity. "It wasn't just that I was well educated at CSU Long Beach, it was that I was able to learn more about myself and better understand myself by learning through the people on campus."

 

A Groundbreaking Study

Just a year after joining CSULB's School of Social Work as an assistant professor in 2014, Crutchfield was tapped by CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White, Ph.D. to lead a first-of-its-kind study: Chancellor White wanted her to find out just how many California State University students might be affected by housing and food insecurity.

No one knew how big the problems might be.

Crutchfield's first report in the three-phase research trial, "Serving Displaced and Food Insecure Students in the CSU," was released in January 2016 and it revealed staggering numbers: As many as 12 percent of the CSU students Crutchfield researched faced housing insecurity, while up to 24 percent suffered from food insecurity.

The report quickly went viral, covered by media from the Los Angeles Times to the Huffington Post; it wasn't long before other universities launched their own studies as well.

"California is way ahead of the game on this issue, and it has everything to do with Chancellor Timothy White's commitment to this issue," says Crutchfield, who has continued her research on nearly half of the CSU's 23 campuses while striving to ensure more students are aware of resources available to help them.

“It wasn’t just that I was well-educated at CSU Long Beach, it was that I was able to better understand myself.”

Stopping the "Starving Student" Narrative

College students who contend with homelessness may be overlooked because they often don't fit the picture many expect.

"We tend to associate homelessness with street living. This is not always the case," Crutchfield explains, adding that a student might sleep in her car, couch-surf among friends or acquaintances, or string together a variety of other temporary housing options while still going to class.

"Just that level of stress of 'Where am I going to sleep tonight?' makes it so hard for these students to function," she says. "I once had a student who had a job, an internship, was going to school full-time, and was dealing with homelessness every day."

Young people like these motivate Crutchfield, because in spite of so many obstacles, they can still see their goal. She says, "These students know that going to college means they will not be living paycheck to paycheck for the rest of their lives; they know the value of education."

"No student should have to choose between having a place to sleep or eat or going to college," she adds.


Helping the Unheard

Understanding the size of a problem like hunger and housing instability among students is, of course, just the first step. It raises the inevitable question: How do we fix it? Finding an answer to such a deeply complex issue has become Crutchfield's singular focus and purpose. 

"We have so much more work to do," she says. "This project is my whole life right now."

And while the avid salsa and Afro-Brazilian samba aficionado may have less time for dancing these days, she draws no end of inspiration from the students she works with on her research. "[They make] me feel so strong about what I need to do every day," she says with a smile.

"These are youth who have been through so much, but have so much optimism about who they are and who they could be. It is just so inspiring to see."

 

Read about the CSU's Basic Needs Initiative, which aims to help students overcome barriers to student success, including food and housing insecurity. 


Share Dr. Crutchfield's story.

#csusuccess

More CSU Profiles