By Paige Merz
D-Hall on a busy day (Photo curtsey of Purchase College website)
The struggle of transitioning to dining-hall style eating can be challenging for college students, but this change is harder for the one in six experiencing allergies or dietary restrictions. What can be done to accommodate this statistic at Purchase College?
Alyssa McCarthy, director of the Office of Disability Resources, said students are responsible for self-reporting their needs to the ODR (Office of Disability resources) through public accommodation requests online. “Everything is evaluated on a case-by-case basis through the interactive process,”McCarthy said. The ODR then reviews the student’s documents and determines applicable adaptations to ensure on-campus eating is a safe environment.
“ODR facilitates a meeting with the student and dining services to determine whether or not the needs of that particular student can be met with regard to their allergies/diagnosis,” said McCarthy. “In most cases, dining services is able to accommodate the student.”
"I ran into the situation often where I would use a meal swipe at Dhall only to find that what I came in for was not actually available or not labeled as vegetarian," said Isabella Milanowski, a junior studying political science. "A few times I asked for a refund on my meal so I could go somewhere else, but I was either denied or treated as a burden for doing so."
Medical documentation is required to fuel respected changes in dining services, according to McCarthy. Without treatment providers’ information, students are unable to guarantee a successful eating environment during their time at Purchase.
When residing within residence-style living, students are required to obtain and fund a full-term meal plan during the entirety of the semester, regardless of their personal dietary restrictions. “If the specific needs cannot be accommodated then ODR will explore other options for the student, which could mean getting them off of the meal plan entirely,” said McCarthy. “Again, all of this is determined and evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”
"I ultimately went to a very reduced meal plan because the vegetarian options on campus are not good or reliable," said Milanowski. "At best I went hungry, at worst I got sick from mislabeled food."
It is unsure what reasonable accommodations are available for those following vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian, and lactose-free diets due to personal discretion, for example.
Shawn Carvajal, resident district manager of dining services, said, “We’ll get together, we’ll have a meeting and discuss the dietary needs… we talk about what’s in the location, we offer to meet with the student and we offer different foods they’re able to eat on campus.”
Dining services are also able to keep a file on the students, and their respective needs within their diet depending on the case, according to John Risman, executive chef of the main dining hall.
Risman suggests taking needs on a case-by-case basis and beginning the process by showing the student the different options available within on-campus eateries. “If there persists to be an issue going forward… we would start tailoring to your needs,” Risman added.
Carvajal emphasized that there is a “delicious without” station in the main dining hall, avoiding the nine FDA-recommended top allergens. Options offered there will be able to address student concerns. As suggested on Purchase College Dining Instagram, @pceats, options at this station for avoiding gluten include cereal, M&M’s, and craisins, as their “favorite d-hall hack.”
D-Hall gluten free hacks posted on Instagram (curtesy of @pceats on Instagram)
Aside from respected stations available for FDA-recommended allergies, the staff is available to curate special-cooked meals for allergy-affected students alongside labels displayed when items are “free of gluten” or vegan, for example. “Our avoiding gluten labels is something we feel very comfortable about, it’s something we’re not able to say is gluten-free,” said Carvajal.
“Even though that is super safe in our eyes,” said Risman, “we still want to take an extra step just because you never know.” Risman emphasized that he would rather cook something separate for a student, rather than risk their health, depending on their case.
Options and support are available for students via the ODR and dining services, although some are unaware of the possibility of accessible and personalized dining on campus.
Sophia Pallozzi, a sophomore journalism student with an anaphylactic nut allergy, relayed information about negative experiences affecting her safety and on-campus dining last semester.
Palozzi claims that she had endured a severe reaction after an incident with mislabeling of allergens in The Hub. “The ingredients were peanuts and peanut oil,” she said, “I ate it and immediately started to have an allergic reaction.”
“We encourage students to come and interact with us,” said Anthony Greco, chef manager of The Hub.
Dining Services staff also highlighted their inclusion of an allergen-related expert in both the dining hall and The Hub eateries. “We’re all required to take an annual allergens training course to make sure our folks have a good understanding,” said Carvajal.
Inclusion within dining services is important due to the varied and complex needs of the student body. Students are expected to provide their medical-necessity to the ODR and aim their personal requirements to the dining staff.
Students without treatment provider's documentation are unable to ensure a reasonably healthy food relationship at Purchase, leaving personal requirements to make do with what is available while on a required meal plan.
Carvajal said, “We can’t promise everything, but we can do our best.”