Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

ODA Needs Reality Check

May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month. Unfortunately, the Office for Disability and Access has demonstrated that they do not see Celiac as a serious condition that warrants housing and dining accommodations.

  My doctor diagnosed me with Celiac during my first year at Oberlin. I am now a graduating senior, and over the last four years, my experience with the ODA and AVI Foodsystems has been atrocious. 

  If you aren’t aware, Celiac is a “serious autoimmune disease that causes damage to villi in the small intestine when gluten is consumed.” When these villi are damaged, my body cannot properly absorb nutrients. Left untreated, Celiac disease can lead to more serious illnesses such as cancer and coronary artery disease. 

  Additionally, writes that, “all people with Celiac disease are at risk for long-term complications, whether or not they display any symptoms.” The only available treatment for Celiac is following a strict gluten-free diet, which means avoiding foods and beverages that contain gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. 

  According to, products in the United States “may be labeled gluten-free if they contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.” If you walk into any dining hall on campus and read the allergen labels, none of the food is labeled GF — gluten-free. Rather, they label it GS — gluten-sensitive. 

  Even Clarity, the dining hall “absent of the nine common food allergens,” tastes disgusting and only labels their food GS. This indicates that AVI does not have the clearance to label their food GF, perhaps because it contains over 20 ppm of gluten.

The only foods labeled gluten-free that AVI sells can be bought at DeCafé using flex dollars. In my second year, the most expensive plan covered up to four meal swipes a day and $200 flex for the entire semester. There’s a GF bread section at Stevenson Dining Hall — pre-packaged, processed foods — and it’s consistently not stocked. Because of the high cost of gluten-free items at DeCafé, I constantly run out of meal swipes and am low on flex dollars. It’s completely unfair that I paid the same amount for the meal plan but needed to supplement my diet with grocery store items because the dining halls couldn’t accommodate me. 

  For this reason, I wanted to have accommodations from the ODA that would allow me to be exempt from the meal plan. At the time, I thought this request was not only reasonable, but required, given that according to, “Celiac disease is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act”. Additionally, “Section 504(a) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination in all institutions receiving federal financial assistance, including schools, on the basis of disability, including certain diseases. The law requires that these schools remove barriers to learning, which include accommodating a child’s gluten-free diet and disability needs.”

  Based on this law, Oberlin College is required to accommodate me. However, when I filed for accommodations as a sophomore, I was only met with pushback from ODA staff members. I had specifically applied for housing accommodations — a single Firelands apartment with a bathroom and kitchen — and dining accommodations — to be exempt from the meal plan. I submitted documentation proving my needs for these accommodations, yet my requests for housing and dining were rejected.

   When I appealed this decision, I met with Office for Disability and Access Assistant Dean and Director Rebecca Smith, who was not only unhelpful but also condescending. 

She decided to usurp the statements from my medical doctor and my certified dietitian, claiming that “based on the barriers described by your self-report and the information on file from your provider, it has been determined that Oberlin College and AVI Fresh can accommodate your nutritional and dietary needs in a way that does not necessitate a private kitchen or removal from the dining plan.” Basically, the ODA cares more about lining AVI’s pockets than providing accommodations for its students with disabilities. The ODA failed to follow up and inform me what documentation I needed to submit a new request for accommodations. 

The Office also did not check in on me throughout my third year, presumably because they assumed that I would be fine without accommodations for whatever reason.

   I want to reiterate that having a serious autoimmune disorder like Celiac is very mentally and physically taxing. Whenever I eat at the dining halls or in restaurants, I always have anxiety that what I order contains trace amounts of gluten. 

Eating gluten, even trace amounts, causes permanent damage to my intestines, and in the short term, gives me a range of symptoms. These symptoms interrupt my learning and prevent me from being the best student I can be. 

Luckily, I am graduating in May and will cook for myself in my own space next year. For the sake of future students, I hope that the ODA better advocates for students, supports them, and listens to their needs. They didn’t help me and did more harm than good. 

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