Scripps College Alumna Heightening Awareness on Food Allergies

Dana Shaker and Professor Seo Young Park

Dana Shaker ’14 and assistant professor of anthropology Seo Young Park. Park served as an advisor on Shaker’s senior thesis, which deals with dietary restrictions.

Some look at life as a glass half empty. Dana Shaker ’14 sees a glass overflowing with opportunities.

An accomplished athlete and student, Shaker has multiple food allergies. When she arrived at Scripps College in 2010 as a first-year student, she approached the staff at the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Commons dining hall about the possibility of an allergy-free food station. Scripps administrators enthusiastically adopted, the idea and allergy-free fare has since become a popular option for students, faculty, and staff.

Not content to rest on her laurels, Shaker, a sociocultural anthropology major, conducted an ethnography during her sophomore year to examine the challenges students with restricted diets face while at The Claremont Colleges. Her study, co-authored by classmate Emily Matteson ’14, was subsequently published in Student Anthropologist, the journal of the National Association of Student Anthropologists.

The following year, the Mellon Foundation awarded Shaker a grant to develop the ethnography into her senior thesis. She conducted 25 interviews with individuals and groups – including students, administrators, staff, and faculty throughout The Claremont Colleges – while leading several on-campus observation sessions and overseeing a survey evaluating general attitudes about dietary restrictions throughout the Consortium.

“At Scripps, food consumption is a way for students to question who they are as people and who they want to become,” says Shaker, who also minored in legal studies.

Her thorough academic research paid off; the thesis earned honors distinction from Scripps faculty. In it, she lists several recommendations to continue heightening campus awareness, including identifying incoming dietary-restricted students in the admissions process and connecting them to available institutional resources; maintaining ongoing conversations about food; and continuing to offer allergy-free meals at on-campus events.

“Eating is a social ritual,” says Shaker, who is from Niles, Ohio. “When you’re away from home for the first time and keen on making friends, it’s so much more inclusive to access your food like everyone else.

“It’s also important, on a practical level, as students often only have about 30 to 40 minutes to eat before running off to their next class, varsity sport, or other extracurricular activity,” says Shaker, who was a varsity athlete on the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps swimming and diving team. “Being able to count on safe food is a foundational building block for fully engaging in all of the wonderful experiences college has to offer.”

Now a rising first-year student at Georgetown University Law Center, Shaker plans to study food law and policy so she can help others. The time spent on her senior thesis left an indelible mark on her.

“Anthropology recognizes the most effective people to shape policy are those affected by it,” she says. Shaker is appreciative of the support she received from the Scripps community as she conducted her research. She hopes her senior thesis will help others with dietary restrictions: “I wanted to give back to the (Scripps) community because it has given me so much.”

 

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