Student with celiac disease expresses grievances with gluten-free dining options on campus

A screenshot of the university’s description of its dining options on the dining services website. 

Alton Northup Reporter

Kent State University advertises its inclusive dining options as a selling point to incoming freshmen. This year, however, students have expressed disappointment with the university, accusing dining services of failing to provide equal dining options for students with dietary restrictions. 

When senior Jaclyn Brooks, who has celiac disease, made the choice to attend Kent State four years ago, she said the campus’ gluten free dining options were a driving force behind her decision. 

“Something that definitely influenced it was obviously Prentice, the gluten free diner,” she said, “I had known about Prentice being gluten free since before I was even looking at colleges.” 

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested. Because of this, Brooks and other students with gluten-free diets depended on Prentice for a safe meal. The university stressed this sentiment as well when the dining hall opened in 2016. 

“Students have enough to worry about – they should not have to worry about their food being safe to eat,” said Rick Roldan, then director of university dining services. “It is important they can eat in a safe environment, which is why we decided to make Prentice Café a gluten-free dining location.”

Brooks said she was shocked when she learned the university made the decision to close Prentice. The closure left behind a gap for safe meal options on campus, something she has tirelessly lobbied the university to rectify. 

At the start of the 2021 fall semester dining services offered gluten friendly meals, options that are not safe for people with celiac. Even then, Brooks said the university failed to properly stock the food, dining halls often ran out of protein or served the same entree throughout the day. 

For months, Brooks reached out to the administration with her grievances, though she said she and her disease were never taken seriously. 

Following emails to dining services and KentWired detailing her experiences dining on campus, Brooks had an opportunity to sit down with faculty and discuss the difficulties she has faced.

The Kent Stater was invited by Brooks and her parents to attend the meeting, where Gary Goldberg, assistant vice president of student affairs, and Jill Jenkins, senior executive director of university housing and culinary services, were present. Goldberg, however, said our attendance was inappropriate and refused to continue the meeting unless we left. 

Brooks said that at the meeting she was encouraged by the university to cook her own meals and was told there would be no gluten free options on campus this year besides grab and go meals.

“It feels like they’re not valuing us,” she said, “It makes me feel isolated.”

When asked if she is hopeful the university will address her complaints and make changes, Brooks said she feels as if they must but that nothing will be done to provide an equal dining experience for students who require a gluten free diet. Celiac disease is covered under the American with Disabilities Act, according to the Department of Justice. Brooks said the university has asked her to sign up with student accessibility services to provide a better understanding of her needs. 

The Kent Stater reached out to university officials for comment but have yet to receive a response. 

Alton Northup is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]