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College Ready? Here Are Some Tips on How to Communicate About Your Food Allergies!

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by Caroline Moassessi, FAACT’s Director of Community Engagement

The adventure begins. You, the Class of 2020, made history as you finished your senior year digitally during a global pandemic. Made of grit, determination, and resilience, you worked against unprecedented challenges. Yet, your class has emerged strong and more determined, as you prepare for your freshman year of college. You may not know yet if your first semester will be held digitally or in person. However, students with food allergies must be prepared to self-advocate with the same gusto used to navigate the end of senior year.

Logistics of housing and dining services aside, there are two incredibly powerful tools that you use to can navigate the course of the next four years in college. They are simple but require a little time to get comfortable with using these tools. These are so simple you might think you read wrong. But I have witnessed the power of a college student using natural communication and gratitude techniques.

Food allergy management guidelines, training, and policy are ineffective if one action does not take place. It all boils down to one human communicating to another human. Communication starts with the student, who then speaks to housing, dining services, academic support/disabilities office, roommates, staff in the dining room, restaurants, doctors, and newfound friends. Absolutely no guidelines or support can be triggered for others to respond unless you, the student with food allergies, initiates the conversation.

Although feeling comfortable with communication sounds simple, it can be challenging at first. For some, communicating with adults or strangers can put them outside of their comfort zone. The good news is that students have this summer to think about their self-advocating and ways to practice and tune into their natural communication skills.

The second tool is straightforward. Saying, “thank you for your time, I know you are busy.” This statement acknowledges appreciation of the time someone is giving you to help keep you safe. It is critical to remember all these people you are speaking to are working hard to keep you safe. Showing your gratitude helps provide feedback that they are doing what is needed, and it inspires them to continue. A simple “thanks for asking me about my allergies,” can send a very heartfelt message that strengthens relationships and friendships.

There are many ways to communicate, but here are some easy basics to get you moving:

  • Be yourself. Do not try to communicate like your parents or best friend. Use words that are comfortable for YOU.
  • Greetings. The handshake is OFF-LIMITS during the COVID-19 Pandemic. But, make sure you verbally greet the person you are speaking to with a polite salutation, such as, “It’s nice to meet you. Thank you for meeting with me today.” Always, look the person in the eye; no matter how awkward this feels, this non-verbal communication tip establishes your confidence.
  • Get Ready. Prepare for your conversation. Review how you will greet the person, introduce yourself, discuss your needs, negotiate solutions, and offer follow-up (send an email or text, etc.).
  • Get Organized. Write down your talking points. Make sure you understand what you are asking. Carry a notepad or be ready to take notes on your phone. Also, bring your talking points to the meeting to make sure you do not forget your points. If you are speaking with peers or friends, you can skip the note pad, but make sure you are comfortable with your talking points.
  • Establish Commitments. Confirm each action point from your discussion. For example, if the plan is for you to text the dining services manager your order 10 minutes before you arrive, confirm this commitment. Simply state, “I just want to confirm; I will text you 10 minutes before I arrive at the dining hall with my order. Is this correct?”. 
  • Be Honest. If you are feeling uncomfortable asking for support, say it. People often have compassion when someone shares their true feelings. For example, say, “I’m feeling awkward asking everyone to head out for Mexican food, so I appreciate your flexibility to help keep me safe”. This shows you are human, honest, and appreciative.
  • Test the Waters. Never underestimate the power of role-playing. You might feel silly role playing a conversation, but this is critical to getting comfortable. Therefore, role play with your parent or trusted friend, feel silly, and get comfortable. 

Showing gratitude means more to people than you might realize:

  • Always say thank you. Period. Your grandma probably said so, so am I.
  • Send an email or text simply to say thank you to whoever might be working on your accommodations. Thank you messages are like receiving little unexpected gifts.
  • Say thank you for each allergen-safe meal handed to you.
  • Get to know the people who are serving your food and say thank you, often.
  • Send a card. A real paper card. Cards make people feel special and recognized. 

This summer is your time! Time to prepare, feel comfortable, and get ready. If your college kicks off the year online, you will still need to work to establish your accommodations and relationships with those who will support your college journey. You will be prepared, capable, and stronger than ever to take the adventure to the next level!

Visit FAACT’s College section for more tips and information.