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OPINION: Let’s keep everyone alive A lack of allergy awareness on campus puts students at risk

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Cindy Cui / Photo Editor

By: Elisa Do, Staff Writer

CW: death

A lot of people hear the word “allergies” and think of seasonal allergies. Maybe they think of a sniffling nose or an itching skin rash. Maybe they think of watery eyes and sneezing; something that comes and goes. However, an allergic reaction can be much more severe than just that. Anaphylaxis is an allergic reaction that is severe, life-threatening and terrifyingly common. In 2015, Andrea Mariano, a student from Queen’s University, passed away from a serious anaphylactic reaction. At the time of her passing, Andrea was a first-year student in her first week of classes. Adjusting to new environments always comes with challenges, but for individuals such as Andrea, there is the added obstacle of avoiding allergens in an unfamiliar place. Sadly, a lack of allergy awareness is still ongoing in our community today. 

Post secondary education is often associated with busy schedules and inconsistent meal times. For most students, double-checking food ingredients before they eat is something that can easily slip one’s mind. Because of this, it is important for students at McMaster to take allergies more seriously on campus, regardless of whether or not they have allergies themselves. Compared to elementary or high school, university is comprised of a much larger population and therefore also becomes much more difficult to control for certain regulations. However, as an institution, boundaries should still be placed. For example, faculty members can promote allergen-free spaces in the classroom by asking students to notify the instructor of any food allergies. In addition, students themselves can also be more cautious when choosing to eat a snack (especially ones containing common allergens) in a place with students they don’t know, such as a large lecture hall. Currently, students can choose to eat just about anything they want, anywhere on campus. This could mean cross-contamination through objects in libraries, residences or any other shared space. However, something as simple as a five-minute announcement on the first day of classes from professors reminding students to be more cautious or the addition of allergen-free areas on campus can help to minimize these risks.

Furthermore, many folks without allergy restrictions complain about the lack of food options on campus. However, for folks who do live with dietary restrictions, campus food becomes more than just a barrier to food enjoyment. Limited food options prevent allergic students from being able to purchase meals without the presumed risk of allergens. Although McMaster Hospitality Services has made notable changes to increase its accommodation for dietary restrictions in recent years, such as including SMPL, the allergen-friendly station in Centro, greater improvements are still waiting to be made. With SMPL being the only specified source of allergen-friendly food on campus, students are limited in their food choices, and for most first-year students, this proves to be especially difficult when they are often restricted to purchasing meals on campus with their meal plan. If a wider selection of allergen friendly stations can be included in other parts of campus, it would not only enable students to purchase meals more conveniently between classes, but would also provide allergic students with the opportunity to choose from menus they feel safe eating from. 

Finally, it is also important that both staff and students remember to provide an empathetic understanding towards folks with allergies. Individuals with allergies live with the added barrier of having to constantly disclose their personal information to strangers. This can mean receiving supportive responses, but it can also mean hearing discouraging remarks from those who lack understanding for allergies. 

Alyssa Burrows, co-president of the McMaster Food Allergy Club, remembers her first disappointing experience with campus hospitality staff, where the staff member remarked that Burrows was “just like [Andrea Mariano] who died at Queen’s.” 

Many students like Burrows need to disclose their allergies to front-line staff when ordering food for their own safety. Unfortunately, the lack of empathy from staff members can discourage many students from disclosing this information, when it is so crucial and life-saving. 

Allergy awareness on and off campus starts with each student understanding the severity behind allergic reactions. It requires compassion and empathy across all members of the community. When we are able to empathize with others, further considerations can be made: campus food options can be expanded, better preventative measures can be taken and communication between all folks can be improved. Put simply, it requires each and every one of us to think of more than just ourselves to keep everyone alive.

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