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Celiac Disease + Academics

Last updated on April 30, 2020

In this class, we have discussed and been introduced to different perspectives on accessibility. Disabilities can be overseen because they aren’t as visible as others. A term that we discussed a lot in class was legibility – how understandable and identifiable something is (Hamrai). Many disabilities are recognized based on their ability to be recognized, like by physical characteristics. But not all disabilities are as easy to see, such as dietary restrictions or mental disabilities. To apply what we learned in the classroom to our lives, we decided to examine accessibility on campus to deepen our understanding. In this blog post, we are discussing accessibility through the lens of nutrition and what options SJU offers to accommodate those with dietary restrictions.

When researching for this article, we decided to interview a high school junior with Celiac disease in the process of looking at colleges in order to gain insight into how the accessibility of gluten-free options would influence a college decision. Below is the interview with Andrea Hester.

Andrea Hester (right) with her sister Julianne Hester ’21 (left)

Julianne: What would you say is the most important factor for you when deciding where you want to go to school for the next four years?

Andrea: The first thing I consider is if the school has my major, which is communication disorders. The second factor I take into consideration is the food, I search online the types of cafeterias and options the school has.

Julianne: Would you go to a school that did not have a reputation for providing a good gluten-free/allergen-friendly dining program?

Andrea: I don’t necessarily care about the reputation of the school or its dining services, [Andrea is a Massachusetts native, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst is known for its dining, being ranked as the number one dining in America numerous times] but if the dining hall doesn’t have, at the bare minimum, a separate station for the gluten-free food, then I would probably no longer consider that school because I would be looking at four more years of feeling sick unnecessarily.

Julianne: Very fair. Have you been able to find resources on colleges’ websites about their gluten-free/dietary restriction policies?

Andrea: I’ve noticed that if the school goes above and beyond with allergen-friendly dining that’s something that they will call attention to on their website, for example, the University of Connecticut has a gluten-free bakery which they advertise. If there are not a lot of GF options, they won’t include any information online because they don’t want to advertise that they don’t cater to their students’ needs.

Julianne: When you have toured schools have they volunteered information on dietary restrictions on the tour or have you had to ask for it?

Andrea: Because of the COVID-19, most of my tours were cancelled. When I toured UMass, they did not volunteer information but when I asked for it the guide was very knowledgeable about all of the options and the dining halls that have better/ more extensive GF options. It didn’t bother me that I had to ask because having a dietary restriction means that you have to speak up and advocate for yourself a lot, so I’m used to telling people I have celiac or asking for accomodations.

Julianne: If every school catered to dietary restrictions, would that change where you’re looking to go to college?

Andrea: Yes, I’ve definitely taken schools I really liked off of my list because I could tell that their GF options were either not adequate (same station leads to cross-contamination, which depending on sensitivity can really be problematic) or just that some schools only have one dining hall with GF options, which would be problematic at a bigger university where I could live/take classes nowhere near that one dining hall.

We decided to interview a fellow hawk, Francesca Saionz ‘21, to see how she has dealt with Celiacs disease while attending SJU. Read below to see what she says.

Francesca Saionz ’21

Caitlin: What limitations do you find when eating at the campus dining halls?

Francesca: Freshman year I found myself struggling to eat in the dining hall, and I would usually end up just eating cereal or a smoothie because it was the safest thing. I bought a lot of yogurt, cheese sticks, protein bars, and basically anything that I could keep in my dorm and avoid a let down from the dining hall’s options. The sandwich line usually had gluten-free bread but the dining hall workers would sometimes act like it was a really big bother being gluten-free and would not be very nice. This was challenging because I would feel bad to bother them and ask them for bread and they would sometimes not have any gluten-free products left. The pasta station you could have gluten-free pasta, but again this is something you would have to ask for and they would not just have it right there at the station and I would have to get it. There was also a lot of cross-contamination which can be an issue for people who have celiac, where I just have a sensitivity, but I still try to avoid cross-contaminating. The two stations in the back, for the most part, would have protein and veggies that were gluten-free. I would usually eat the chicken or salmon and whatever veggies were being served for my dinners, but maybe about once or twice a week they made products with gluten and this is when I would go to cereal or go back to my dorm and eat something there. Also, DB has no gluten-free options so I never could eat in there.

Caitlin: Were there certain schools you couldn’t look at when applying for college?

Francesca: This was not a concern for me because I am not a picky eater so I know that I would be able to figure something out, which is exactly what I did at SJU.

Caitlin: Do you think that the University does a good job accommodating dietary restrictions?

Francesca: I don’t think that SJU did a very good job because like I mentioned before a lot of things were cross-contaminated and it was difficult to ask for gluten-free products and most stations did not provide the options. Cross-contamination can be a really big issue for people who have celiac, but even with my sensitivity I do not like to put things at risk. If they could change a couple of things, I would suggest a gluten-free toaster and having more access to gluten-free products. It would have been a lot easier if I did not have to worry about buying meals for my dorm instead of eating in campion or if the options are suitable for gluten-free people.

It is easy to forget about disorders that branch beyond the external, physical body. However, more conversations with those that struggle with dietary restrictions or eating disorders, help widen the gap and maximize on awareness. A key takeaway from both conversations is that there are initiatives that SJU and institutions far beyond should take into account, highly consider, and put into practice as to cater universally.

-Noah Gansallo ‘21, Kerri Greco ‘21, Jules Hester ‘21, Caitlin Klarich ‘21, Liv Massaro ‘21,

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