University of Texas students with food allergies can rest easy knowing their dietary needs are met on campus, although not all universities can say the same.
At Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. students with gluten allergies recently won a settlement after a lawsuit claimed the University was falling short of the American with Disabilities Act requirements by not offering gluten-free food options but requiring students to live on campus and buy a meal plan. Lesley is now offering gluten-free options on campus.
Lindsay Gaydos, Division of Housing and Food Services dietitian, said although UT students are not required to live on campus, those who do are required to buy a meal plan. The housing contract states that special meals for medical and religious related diets are not available, but the division has made efforts to meet the needs of students with food allergies, particularly in recent years.
“Students have the option of whether they want to live and dine with us,” Gaydos said. “Regardless of what the contract says, we are willing to assist in any possible way can for students with food allergies and special diets. We’re actually looking at rewording that within our contract in the near future, because we do so much in terms of accommodating.”
Biology sophomore Theresa Deike, who has been on a gluten-free diet for more than three years, said the awareness of gluten-free food in Austin and on campus makes it easy to find safe food for her to eat, and contributed to her decision to study at UT.
“I’ve been to other universities, like Baylor, where there was basically only one option, but I couldn’t eat the same meal every day for four years,” Deike said. “I eat at Jester a lot. I can pretty much eat whatever I want. In J2 especially, the staff is really good about answering questions about what is gluten-free.”
Gaydos said students living on campus can meet her for free personal appointments about food allergies, vegan or vegetarian diets and diet plans for healthy weight loss.
“When I meet with students with food allergies, I’m able to go through our entire menu with them and specifically take out the food items that meet their diet requirement, that way they know ahead of time what’s available to them,” Gaydos said.
Resident dining hall menus are provided online and are available on a mobile app, with at least one gluten-free option per each meal. Food icons, implemented in 2011, identify the top eight food allergens, as well as food items that are often avoided for religious reasons.
Jennifer Maedgen, Services for Students with Disabilities interim director, said although her office may be a first point of contact for new students with food allergies, they typically work directly with Division of Housing and Food Services because the division makes many accommodations in the dining halls and students rarely need further assistance.
“Because UT is such a large place, students may not know where to start,” Maedgen said. “Students with food allergies typically do not require classroom accommodations, but SSD may be more involved if they need accommodations in their campus living environment, but we would work with [DHFS] in these instances as well. As with all students, we work with them on an individual basis depending on their needs.”