When I set out to research the work that has been done in higher education food allergy management, I first to FARE and combed through their Pilot Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Higher Education. In those guidelines was a long list of names of the people who contributed to the guidelines, and among them was Ms. Laura Patey. Ms. Patey is the Associate Dean for Student Academic Services at Wesleyan University. I emailed Ms. Patey several questions about her involvement in the development of the Pilot Guidelines and her viewpoints on higher education food allergy management and followed up with a delightful thirty minute phone call. To say that I was impressed with what goes on at Wesleyan is a true understatement. This university of approximately 3,000 students does so much to assist and serve its students with food allergies - it is a model of what best practice is for food allergy management!!
I first asked Ms. Patey about how she came to be included in the development of the Pilot Guidelines, and she explained that it stemmed from her involvement in a presentation on dealing with food allergies in higher education at MIT in the spring of 2015. She was then asked to attend a summit in Arizona that was sponsored by FARE, and described it as a wonderful time for various stakeholders (parents, students, representatives from food services, department of justice representatives, and more) to collaborate and come up with best practice ideas. Following her work on the guidelines, Wesleyan applied and was accepted to participate in the pilot program that was run by FARE.
I then asked Ms. Patey what she believed is the biggest issue/challenge facing college campuses as they seek to manage food allergies, and she described it as a three-pronged issue: getting students to self-identify, that this age group is seeking independence, and a lack of coordination or team approach to managing food allergies. Ms. Patey elaborated and emphasized that, from a disability services perspective, it is crucial for students with food allergies to self-identify. Disability services can only provide services as requested.
When it comes to how food allergies are managed at Wesleyan, Ms. Patey described the many, many ways that Wesleyan has stepped up its game when it comes to assisting students. First, all accepted students at Wesleyan are mailed a notification form for accommodation requests, and food allergies are included. This form allows students to inform the university of the services that they will need. Ms. Patey also explained that there is a real team approach at Wesleyan, and that the health records that students are required to submit before they attend are examined, and that students who appear to have food allergies are sent additional information as well. Ms. Patey is the point of contact for students who are identified as having a life-threatening food allergy. Students who appear to have an intolerance or other dietary concern are also encouraged to contact Ms. Patey.
Ms. Patey also shared that there is a student group on campus called EASY (Eating Allergy Safe and Yummy) that started as a group with celiac, but that the student founder realized that food allergy students needed help as well. These students meet on a regular basis, cook together, and there is even a nutritionist and dietician involved. These students focus on advocacy, management, and assisting incoming students - they even created a dining guide for incoming students on campus!
I asked Ms. Patey about Residence Life at university, and she said that she works with RAs to provide an Allergy 101 training and meets with students on the floor. The housing setup at Wesleyan is different than most universities in that it is a progressive model, where freshman live in more traditional dorms, but then move on to theme-based houses as sophomores. There are shared meals in these houses, so students with food allergies often need help navigating. They progress to apartment style living as juniors, and then live in groups of 2-6 in houses with friends as seniors. Ms. Patey and her office are there to assist students through this housing setup.
When I asked Ms. Patey if she wanted to share anything else, she brought up two things. First, external food vendors at Wesleyan that are not tied to dining services are invited to come to trainings with dining services. This is yet another way that Wesleyan goes above and beyond to protect its students. Finally, Ms. Patey shared that she has observed a large increase in the number of students carrying epinephrine since she arrived in 2013. In fact, between 2015 and 2016 alone, the number of students carrying epinephrine more than doubled. When I mentioned my interest in studying higher education food allergy management because I believed that there was going to be a huge influx of food allergic students, she said she truly believes it is here now.
I am so deeply grateful to Ms. Patey for agreeing to discuss her ties to food allergy management and to share the work she and others are doing at Wesleyan to protect and assist students with food allergies. The programming and policies that exist at Wesleyan reflect a lot of time and dedication, and all involved should be commended for what is truly an ideal setup for food allergy management!
My name is Brittany Dye, and I am a food allergy mom and a graduate student in higher education administration at Middle Tennessee State University. These two parts of my world have collided, and I am passionate about successful food allergy management in higher education.