On-campus living GF?
It's that time of year again - many colleges and universities have sent out acceptance letters and it is time to arrange campus visits before making a final decision. Being Celiac or gluten-intolerant, these campus visits are extremely important in making your decision and provides an excellent opportunity to make appointments with housing and food services and the disability office to ascertain if on-campus housing is not only possible, but the most healthy option for you or your student.
Before visiting campus, call ahead and make appointments (if possible) with the head chef, the manager of on-campus convenience stores, the director of housing and food services and the disability office. I would meet first with the housing and food services director to find out what measures are currently in place to handle gluten-intolerance -- from here, you can create a plan of action for speaking to both the head chef and the convenience store manager. It is important to find out, first of all, how gluten-intolerance is handled: are there any provisions in place? If so, what are they? If not, what would it take to set up a system? What kind of on-campus cooking facilities are available to students? (Most residence halls have communal kitchens which, if you provide your own cookware, can be an alternative to a dining plan.) Also find out how the on-campus dining plan operates: if you have a balance at the end of the term, is it refunded? Rolled over into the next term? If you live in the residence halls, are dining plans compulsory or can it be waived under special circumstances or prorated based on use? Based on this meeting, you should have a pretty good feel for how the institution handles on-campus dining and gluten-intolerant needs.
When meeting with the head chef, this will be a more technical conversation. Based on what you gathered from the meeting with housing/food services, you should have a good idea of where to start with the chef. If there are provisions in place, talk to the chef and find out exactly how that works -- are there self-service GF snacks available in a special location? Where on campus are there GF options? How does the student obtain GF food -- do they speak to the kitchen staff and wait? Is there a standing order ready at a specific time? How is cross-contamination handled? etc. If there are not provisions in place, speak to the chef about existing meal options which can be made GF: salad bar, soups, self-serve convenience items (fruit, yogurts, etc.), which meals are already GF? Discuss ingredient lists for specific meals (which brand of spices is used on campus? If not GF, can they change it? etc.). This may be a labor intensive process, but if it's your dream school - make it happen.
If you so choose, after your meeting with the head chef, meet with the convenience store/cafe manager. There are usually several locations on campus which provide self-serve cold cases with sandwiches, salads and other snack foods. Take a look around and see what GF options are already being stocked and find out if you can place custom orders for specific products -- like Yoplait yogurts, Glutenfreeda Burritos and Instant Oatmeal, Pamela's Cookies,or Udi's bread products, etc.
Finally, the reason I suggest the disability office, again, is because it provides you with legal back-up on a federal level, and unfortunately, the idea of a potential lawsuit is sometimes what it takes to get things done. It certainly shouldn't come to this, but having federal legal back up can't hurt. Sometimes, by having your Celiac or gluten-intolerance documented as a disability, you can receive a special housing assignment which may mean a room close to the in-hall kitchen or with a small kitchenette, a larger refrigerator/freezer, etc. Also, if you end up with roommates who don't seem to understand/don't care and are unrealistically jeopardizing your health, you have a legal venue for addressing the issue.
Now, all of this is predicated on a desire to live on-campus. While I realize that this is not for everyone, I really do believe that living on-campus is an essential part of the college experience and an incredible way to build friendships. If possible, give on-campus housing a shot - even if for just a year - because it is an experience that will prove invaluable as time goes by.
If you have any questions, comments or ideas of your own - let me know! Feel free to contact me at this link.
- Kelsey Ganes, University of Washington student