Section: Opinion

AVI still fails to meet needs of students with allergies despite continued efforts

I feel like you’re all probably sick of hearing about AVI. Even I’ll admit that dining services on our tiny campus are small potatoes compared to the national and global events of the past few weeks. But the reality for students with accessibility needs is that AVI is still treating them like burdens to their operation. How can Kenyon call itself an inclusive community when so many of its students cannot eat here safely?

AVI administrators insist they have plans for improving their accessibility and allergy accommodations, but action has been slow. When food is still mislabeled and students are still getting sick, it becomes obvious that if Kenyon continues their contract with AVI Foodsystems, the College will continue putting disabled students and students with dietary restrictions in danger. With AVI’s contract up this summer, we are obligated as a community to replace it with a more accommodating service. We deserve a food service that keeps students safe. We deserve a dining hall that is fully accessible. We deserve a food service that treats its workers with respect. We deserve better than AVI.

I first sat down with AVI to discuss allergy accommodations when I was a prospective student — and I feel accommodations have only gotten worse. Had the management been this bad when I was a first year, I likely would have transferred to a school that could have accommodated me.

On Jan. 24 during Common Hour, I attended an open forum with concerned students and a variety of Kenyon and AVI administrators. Every student present expressed valid concerns about AVI’s operation, speaking both to accessibility and allergy concerns. Despite AVI’s insistence, I never got the sense that the company is genuinely concerned about students’ welfare. For much of the meeting, students were told that the “real” issue is that allergy awareness among the student body is low. AVI administrators complained that Kenyon students have “more” allergies than they are used to and thus present more difficulties. No clear answers were given as to why AVI cannot provide students with in-depth ingredient information for all dishes.

Encouraging the stereotype that Kenyon is full of “coastal elites” who fake allergies for attention is dangerously misguided, and simply untrue — according to Food Allergy Research and Education, one in 13 Americans has some form of food allergy or intolerance. Each and every one deserves to be taken seriously. When so much of our Kenyon community is tied to Peirce, we need a food service that works for everyone — not one that “hopes” to have accurate allergen labels after Spring Break, as I was told in an additional meeting with AVI administrators and concerned students on February 6th. Universal accessibility must always be the goal, and excuses that AVI employees are not “educated enough” to understand allergies help no one.

AVI employees work hard and deserve nothing but praise from our student body, but AVI’s administration must be held accountable for their inaction. Peirce displays banners and signs promoting allergy awareness, but the awareness is clearly not extending to the kitchen, and many items still go entirely unlabeled.

If speaking out about AVI’s faults becomes my Kenyon legacy, that’s fine by me. But I want to walk across that graduation stage in May feeling I’ve done something productive to improve students’ lives here. Kenyon must either hold AVI to a higher standard of accessibility, or look for a new food service that provides students with the accommodations they need.

When a meal can mean life or death for some students, we need a food service that considers students’ needs, not just their meal plan payments.

Deirdre Sheridan ’17 is an English major from Fanwood, N.J. Contact her  at sheridand@kenyon.edu.

1 Comment

Comments for this article have closed. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor for publication, please email us at collegian@kenyon.edu.