This month, Wesleyan was one of 12 colleges and universities across the country selected to take part in a new College Food Allergy pilot program being carried out by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). The program strives to help colleges and universities provide a safer experience for students with food allergies and offers schools “gold-standard recommendations and evidence-based resources needed to effectively manage food allergy, a potentially life-threatening disease.”
Associate Dean of Student Academic Resources Laura Patey has been instrumental in bringing this program to Wesleyan, and she answered questions about it.
Q: When and how did your concern about food allergies begin, and how did Wesleyan come to partner with FARE?
A: I presented last year at a workshop at MIT titled “Supporting Students with Dietary Needs in Dynamic Higher Education Environments.” Following that presentation, I was invited to participate in a college summit hosted by FARE. The summit gathered people from institutions across the country who were interested in this topic and resulted in the formation of a group focused on the development of best practices guidelines. I co-chaired the Access Services Guidance Committee, working closely with FARE in preparing the Pilot Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Higher Education.
The growing number of students who have food allergies or celiac disease has really brought this issue to the forefront. Many of these students have received services throughout their schooling and are now asking for services when they arrive at college.
Q: What has Wesleyan done prior to its work with FARE to keep students with food allergies safe?
A: Wesleyan has offered fairly comprehensive services to students who have specific dietary needs. Students who have requested accommodations work with Michele Myers-Brown in Usdan to coordinate with the managers from Bon Appetit. Menus with color coded icons that indicate specific designations (vegan, vegetarian, made without gluten, etc.) for all dining spaces on campus are available online so that students can review the options and determine in advance which items will meet their needs. For some students, it is simply access to the nutritionist and a clear understanding of how to navigate the dining halls. For other students, meals are prepared and set aside so that potential for cross-contact with potential allergens is eliminated. Bon Appetit has posted information about campus dining and allergies at Wesleyan. Students gain a level of comfort working with the managers in the dining halls and are able to request information about specific ingredients whenever they are unsure.
Because we have a unique housing stock that allows students to live in apartments and houses as they progress through Wesleyan, more juniors and seniors are preparing meals in their own kitchens. Again, the nutritionist and other staff are available to consult with students to be sure that they are effectively managing their dietary needs. Students can order food items through Weshops that might not be commonly stocked.
Q: Outside of the dining halls, what other areas of student life can food allergies impact?
A: Food allergies can impact residential life, athletics, and other co-curricular activities. Student groups often offer programming that includes access to food. When athletic teams are traveling, student-athletes with food allergies or celiac disease need to be aware of available food options. There are considerations for where the team may stop and what options exist for all members of the team.
Q: Please describe what the FARE pilot program will entail?
A: Wesleyan will be working with FARE to implement the best practices guidelines within the structure of our campus. We have our initial meeting with FARE this week when they will be visiting campus. We will begin to work on the development of a plan that will bring all of the areas involved to the next level. We will be focusing not only on the delivery of services, but also on education and outreach. We want to be sure that all students who may be impacted are aware of the services that Wesleyan offers and how to connect with the appropriate people to be sure that student needs are met. In addition to receiving assistance and support from FARE with implementing the guidelines, Wesleyan will receive free food allergy training for dining and resident life staff.
Q: Which Wesleyan employees and departments will be involved in carrying out the plan?
A: This is a coordinated effort that involves Dining Services, Disability Resources, Residential Life and Health Services. Michele Myers-Brown from the Usdan Student Center, Michael Strumpf from Bon Appetit, Laura Patey, Disability Resources, Maureen Isleib from Residential Life and Dr. Thomas McLarney from Davidson Health Center will be taking the lead on this important effort. In addition, students will also be playing an important role.
Q: If the pilot goes well, what changes would you like to see at Wesleyan in future years?
A: It is our hope that we can broaden the scope of our services and our educational efforts to raise awareness around the issues of food allergies and other dietary needs on campus. Wesleyan will have a model program that will reflect our commitment to helping our students effectively manage food allergy, a potentially life-threatening disease.
Beginning in 2016, FARE will launch a database that will give all colleges and universities the opportunity to list the components of FARE’s program and guidelines they have implemented. This will assist parents and students as they make important decisions about where to attend school.
Q: Is there any way for faculty, staff or students to get involved in these efforts?
A: We welcome members of the Wesleyan community who would like to be involved in the pilot. We will be working closely with students who have identified food allergies or celiac disease. Anyone who is interested in participating in this project should contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.