With the departure of AVI Resident Director Kim Novak over Winter Break, AVI Foodsystems, the College’s dining service, has undergone a complete management change at Kenyon since last year. Meagan Stewart, the former executive chef, was replaced by Jeremy Fonner after her departure this past summer; Michael Hogancamp, a former sous-chef, left to pursue other opportunities in the fall. Now, Christopher Wisbey has taken over as the resident director at a time of increased student scrutiny over AVI’s practices.
Over the break, a change.org petition circulated on social media calling on the College to refrain from renewing its contract with AVI unless the dining service made sweeping reforms to accommodate students with disabilities, whether physical or related to allergens. The petition gained 297 supporters.
AVI’s contract with the College expires in June, and the College is still in the midst of ongoing discussions regarding its contract with AVI, according to Mark Kohlman, Kenyon’s chief business officer.
Although students have voiced displeasure with AVI’s allergen labeling and accommodations, Wisbey has a plan to improve their dining experience and is confident the College will renew its contract with AVI.
“My goal in coming here is to get this under wraps so that students are safe,” Wisbey said. “My goal and [Fonner’s] goal is when students walk into the dining hall, they can find food that they can have.”
Wisbey said helping students with these disabilities is his top priority. Over the break, he hired Garrett Shuttler, a wellness nutritionist with a degree in health and human performance, to be available in the servery to answer any questions about potential allergens in the food. AVI is also incorporating purple banners that will introduce “emojis” identifying allergens on the daily menus. The color purple, according to Wisbey and Fonner, will alert students to potential allergens, and the purple tongs serve the same purpose.
Together with these new measures, AVI is working with the College to introduce a website called NetNutrition — a nutritional information service — which will allow students to look up the ingredients in each item on AVI’s menu. Wisbey and Kohlman said the website will be completed by next fall.
Not all students are satisfied with the changes Wisbey has made so far. At a food safety meeting in Peirce Dining Hall on Tuesday, Lin Miao ’17 and Deirdre Sheridan ’17, the creators of the change.org petition, voiced their concerns about student accessibility and allergen labeling to Kohlman, Wisbey and Fonner; Meredith Bonham, vice president of Student Affairs; Erin Salva, director of student accessibility and support services; Fred Linger, manager of business services.
Miao, who has cerebral palsy, told the administration AVI needed to act more quickly to ensure students with disabilities feel safe in Peirce, especially regarding how quickly they respond to unmarked food spills. She described an incident earlier in the year when she slipped in New Side; she will have to receive knee surgery later this year as a result.
Salva said the College is auditing Peirce’s servery to see if it is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits unjustified discrimination based on disability. The audit will be completed by the end of the week.
Sheridan also expressed concerns about accessibility issues, particularly for those suffering with allergies. Although all AVI employees went through an allergen training process earlier in the fall, according to Linger, Sheridan believes the chefs should be certified by Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), a non-profit organization that raises awareness about allergens, to ensure they are aware of food allergies students may have.
Wisbey and Fonner assured both students they are working to make Peirce more accommodating for students with such needs. Next year, managers and the lead chefs will go through FARE training. As for accommodating disabled students, he said he would try to ensure that employees attend to spills in a timely manner.
At the end of the meeting, neither Miao nor Sheridan was completely satisfied with AVI’s new efforts.
“I personally have been seeing this for three years,” Sheridan said. “They say they’re going to do all these things, and there might be a few tiny changes that happen, but it’s not really a big comprehensive overhaul.”
“I just don’t think it’s helpful for people who need extra accommodations to be talked down to, or be treated like they’re a burden,” Miao said. “Whenever they say these things take time, we can’t jump on it quickly, that just reinforces the notion that they’re not holding themselves up to the high standard of universal access.”
Wisbey hopes to initiate these changes in Peirce as soon as he can. And even though AVI’s contract with the College is almost up, he said he was “100 percent” confident that Kenyon will renew the contract.
The College has not yet decided whether or not to renew AVI’s contract, according to Kohlman, and will be evaluating what is best for the College and students.
“We’re having ongoing evaluation and contract talks in general,” Kohlman said. “Are they meeting the primary goals of our dining service, and are they meeting them at a reasonable cost for the College and the students? Those would be the main [evaluations].”