For junior Tricia Duke, every meal in the Hard Knox Cafe earlier this term was like a leap of faith.
“It’s kinda this big game of chance. I don’t know for sure what exact drop of oil, what exact piece of powdered milk is going to make its way from one side of the kitchen to another,” she said.
Duke has a severe dairy allergy. It is not life-threatening, but symptoms range from fatigue and congestion to vomiting and back pain.
“The [allergic] reactions that are really problematic are those that are like six-hour disturbances in my life,” she said.
Duke was hopeful that more open space in the cafeteria would limit potential cross-contamination, but it quickly became clear that was not the case.
“I was starting to have reactions that would make me like throw up or have disturbances every two weeks or so, which wasn’t working for me anymore,” she said.
Duke identified potential hazards in the cafeteria, such as cross-contamination on the grill and other students’ general lack of tidiness, but overall emphasized that cross-contamination was not a fault of the Dining Services.
“Bon Appett ranks pretty well as far as food service provides go in how often I react,” Duke said. “I’m actually pretty impressed, considering the constraints that they’re under, that it’s not worse in the caf.”
Duke saw the problem of cross-contamination as unavoidable in environments such as cafeterias, which is why she sought out a change in her meal plan. However, figuring out a plan for severe allergies is a difficult feat.
Director of Disability Support Services Stephanie Grimes has worked with students to find to try to find that ideal option by working with Dining Services.
Associate Dean of Students for Residential Learning Craig Southern is also working to find a solution with Dining Services. According to him, the college wants to accommodate those affected by food allergies as best as they can.
Southern said that students with food allergies can petition to go off-board by meeting with his and Grimes’ offices.
However, going off-board is not always an appealing alternative, according to Duke.
“I didn’t want to be completely off board, but I also couldn’t stay on-board,” she said.
Grimes described one campus alternative, which provided a house for students with allergies, that worked in the past.
Duke eventually switched to a commuter plan, despite being an on-campus student.
Grimes mentioned that the school is evolving its approach to students with allergies because more students are requesting accomodations.
Grimes stated that part of that change would mean reaching out and working with students with milder allergies who still need accommodations.
“There’s a whole other group of individuals that I haven’t really been involved with much,” she said. “But it seems as we’re changing our process that I’m probably going to be more involved.”
Duke was ultimately pleased with how the administration was able to meet her needs.
“They’re definitely working for us,” she said. “It’s just a matter of doing it effectively, which is what they’re all trying to figure out now.”