Gluten Conscious, or Gluten Free? The CNU Dining Experience According to Gluten-Free Students


Date: 27 May 2016

To: Kevin Ososkie, Director of Dining Hall Services (, President Trible  

From: Maria Coulouris, Student at Christopher Newport University (

Subject: Dining Hall Improvements for Gluten-Free Students


The purpose of this qualitative study is to inform the CNU community and the dining hall services on the importance of making the dining halls more gluten free friendly for those with wheat and gluten intolerances.



Starting college more often than not requires many changes and adjustments that  incoming students must make. However, some must adapt more than others. One main concern for many students at CNU revolves around dining halls, their hours, meal plans, and choices, especially for those who have dietary restrictions. At Christopher Newport University, there are several dining options for students of all dietary restrictions, but less so for those who must eat on a gluten free diet. Gluten is a protein that is often found in grains such as wheat, oats, and barley, making products essentially without wheat flour very difficult to find. To better understand this issue, a survey was conducted online and asked thirty students who are required to eat on a gluten-free diet some open-ended and ordinal questions in order to find out what more could be done in the dining halls, as there are still several concerns across campus. This includes the availability of gluten free products, the lack of education about cross-contamination, and limited options.


The survey’s open ended questions revealed that gluten free students often feel overwhelmed and burdensome by the conditions in Commons and Regattas in regards to maintaining a gluten free diet. This ethnographic study was carried out in order to bring these issues into light of those who can initiate change and can help gluten free students who still rely on a meal plan to maintain a healthy and happy life while at college. Some of these changes include making food readily available reducing wait time, accuracy in labeling foods as gluten free, more options, and education and implementation of protocols that help to eliminate cross contamination issues by the Dining Hall Staff.


Christopher Newport has become an increasingly recognized and revered university especially over the past decade, and these subtle changes could be extremely beneficial to their national reputation, not to mention the quality of life for students.

If you have any questions or comments about this qualitative study, please feel free to contact Maria Coulouris at 703-677-0848 or at . Thank you for your time!


Gluten Conscious, or Gluten Free? The CNU Dining Experience According to Gluten-Free Students.


In May 2015, Maria Coulouris, a rising senior at Christopher Newport University, researched ways to help improve the lives of students who eat in the on-campus Dining Halls and live with gluten-free dietary restrictions. CNU offers two main dining halls, Commons and Regattas, which respectively have a handful of gluten-free options each week. However, these options are typically limited in quantity and variety, take extra time to prepare as needed,  and are subject to cross-contamination. After personally experiencing these obstacles in the Dining Halls due to her diagnosis of  Celiac Disease, she decided to find out if there were others who were dealing with the same experiences by creating a brief survey that was shared on the CNU Facebook groups. This qualitative survey targeted students who partake in a gluten-free diet and rely on the dining halls for their main source of food.


The survey gave the opportunity for the thirty respondents to express any and all concerns they had with the dining halls through open ended questions, and also allowed them to express their potential concerns with availability of options, cross contamination, and frequency of options. It also measured the severity of their restrictions and it became evident that the majority of respondents eat gluten-free due to health issues, highlighting the significance that this study could make. A significant percentage of those surveyed expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of options and food not being readily available. These issues should and can be addressed by the CNU Dining Hall Staff in order to make sure gluten free students to not feel like second-class citizens in a Dining Hall that they pay $2,000 to eat in per semester along with everybody else. Universities across the nation, both large and small, have gone out of their way to make sure that students with specific dietary restrictions are taken care of and Christopher Newport University could easily follow their examples. Some of these universities were mentioned in Udi’s “Top Ten Gluten-Free Accommodating College Campuses” and embedded training programs for staff on the dangers of cross contamination, meetings between staff members and students with restrictions to better cater to their needs, and even support clubs outside of the Dining Halls. In summary, Christopher Newport University, as an up-and-coming school, should follow the examples of other well known universities and increase the urge to ensure a healthy lifestyle for students with gluten-free dietary restrictions.



Christopher Newport University offers two main dining halls, Commons and Regattas, along with several places around campus that accept Captain’s Cash and Dining Dollars. Commons and Regattas, more importantly, are the only two dining options that offer a handful of gluten free options. However, these options are typically limited in quantity and variety, take extra time to prepare as needed,  and are subject to cross-contamination.  The current study was focused on the experience of the CNU Dining Halls by students who have gluten-free dietary restrictions and primarily rely on the dining halls for food. The survey revealed that eighty percent of the students who participated have health issues that require a gluten free diet, making these suggestions for bettering the Dining Hall even more imperative. More than half of those surveys rated dining hall staff’s knowledge of cross contamination issues as extremely low, and almost ninety percent of respondents have entered a dining hall with no viable options, almost a couple of times per week. All in all, students expressed concern about the variety, education about the gluten-free diet, and the immediate availability of gluten free foods, which urges CNU Dining Hall Services to provide additional and more knowledgeable accommodations.


This qualitative studies was conducted using an ethnographic approach, as it helped to bring light to shared patterns occuring amongst a group at Christopher Newport University–in this case, the study targeted CNU students who abide by a gluten-free diet and rely on residence halls. Typically ethnographic studies take twenty or so people into account, and this study took several more to gain a greater understanding of the issue. Those who must abide by a gluten free diet all share similar experiences at the dining halls and this ethnographic study displays that there are common interests among this group. This, in return, points out the main problems that need fixing in the CNU Dining Halls, to include more and frequent options, readily available food, and more education about cross contamination, in addition to other outlying concerns.


Research Methods

The following qualitative and ethnographic research was conducted through a Google Form survey that was dispersed amongst the CNU Class of 2017, 2018, and 2019 Facebook pages, targeting those who were gluten free and ate at dining halls. The survey conducted was composed of 9 questions, 2 being open-ended, four questions measured at the ordinal level, and 3 at the nominal level. Questions were double checked in order to avoid interviewer biased and can be found along with the answer choices in the index section. Once the results were collected, further research on gluten free dining halls and their accommodations was conducted in order to further investigate how the CNU Dining Hall experience for gluten-free students could change.



Once all the data was collected, Google Forms analyzed the results and set up visualizations to help find patterns. Overall, the data suggested that the most necessary change people surveyed are worried about are the variety and quantity of gluten-free food in the CNU Dining Halls. When asked how they would rate CNU Dining Halls in having gluten free options, almost half of the respondents rated them to having barely any. Additionally, about 90% of the respondents have experienced a time where there was nothing for him or her to eat in the dining hall and had to rely on other sources of food, at least once a week. These results can be found in the data measured below.

Figure 1: almost 80% of the gluten-free students surveyed partake in this diet due to health concerns, making this study important for the staff to see and understand the severity of their intolerance. Another question that could be asked in the future could include whether they have reacted poorly to something in the dining hall presumably due to cross contamination, although less leading.

Why are you gluten free?

Figure 2: 1 was labeled as “none” and 5 was labeled as “more than enough”.


Figure 3: Many people know that having a completely gluten-free kitchen is next to impossible, and cross contamination is bound to happen. However, simple mistakes (such as using the same panini grill, not washing off a grill, or rolling a gluten free burger bun on the same butter roller as the regular ones) are made on a daily basis in the Dining Hall Staff. This survey asked respondents this question to see who actually found this to be a problem, and the results were not conclusive. If done again, this question could be rephrased or even left open-ended.
cross contamination

Figure 4: However, when asked about staff’s perceived knowledge on cross contamination, the results that were assumed concluded that the staff does not take as many precautionary measures with preparing gluten free food. 1 stood for “did not know” and 5 stood for “aware and took measures”.

knwoledge x cont.

Figure 5-7: These three questions went hand-in-hand to exemplify the extra barrier that students who are gluten-free must go through. Each meal plan is approximately one to two thousand dollars per semester, and many times some of that money goes to waste when dining halls do not accommodate well. Another interesting research project that could stem from this would be the movement to provide gluten free options at alternative dining options (such as the Grille, Bistro, and Pizzeria that are located in the David Student Union on main campus).

options in hallif yes, how often?when dining hall closed

Additionally, two open questions were asked to the respondents, the first one asking each respondent what they would change (if anything) about the CNU Dining Hall experience as a gluten-free student. The second one asked for any additional comments, concerns, or solutions to help CNU Dining Hall Services. However, the answers from these two overlapped quite a bit and had several keywords and key themes. The answers from these two questions were entered into a word cloud database where the frequency of the words could visibly be seen. (See Figure 9). As seen in the word cloud, aside from redundant words such as “gluten” and “free”, the words “better” and “options” stood out. In context, this highlights a large portion of what gluten free students want: better options for those who are gluten free. Other notable words mentioned were “available” and “contamination”. The frequency wave also shows that the word “more” was frequently used in answers in several contexts (See Figure 10).

However, the open ended questions revealed several other aspects (aside from providing more and various options) that students brought to the attention of the study that helps to explain the experiences on a more personal level. In Commons or Regattas, gluten-free students must make the initiative to get the gluten free alternative of a specific food and thus result in feeling burdensome or uncomfortable. One respondent suggested to make food readily available and noted how “It’s kind of embarrassing having to ask for a gluten free item and then wait there awkwardly waiting on it. It’s nice having the gluten free options out with the normal food so I can feel normal”. Many other respondents focused on the fact that gluten free foods are not always labeled or prepared gluten free, so suggestions made included the education of staff members, and even the implementation of gluten free zones in both Commons and Regatta’s. These minor changes could make a world of a difference, especially for those whose bodies reject and cannot digest gluten.


Figure 9: Wordcloud of words used in open-ended questions  


Figure 10: Frequency of: Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 2.13.35 AM The word “more” was used very frequently in terms of having more gluten free options, and appeared 17 times as this figure displays.


Overall, the results of the qualitative research study revealed that students who have gluten-free dietary restrictions who attend Christopher Newport University would greatly benefit from adding more and various options, making gluten free dishes more readily available, making the environment gluten-free where possible, and adding training sessions to better inform the staff in order to prevent accidental contamination are several simple ways that the Dining Hall Services at CNU can help keep their students feeling normal, happy, and healthy.



O’Sullivan, Colleen, and Susannah Faulkner. “Gluten Free Blog.” Udis Gluten Free Bread The Top 10 Gluten Free Accommodating College Campuses Comments. Udi’s Gluten Free, n.d. Web. 23 May 2016.



Survey: CNU Dining for Gluten-Free Students


“Hello! I am completing a qualitative study for my ENG 353 class that surrounds the CNU Dining experience for students who have gluten intolerances or Celiac Disease. Please answer these questions to the best of your ability! Thank you in advance!”


I allowed them an empty space to provide their name if they felt necessary for me to contact them about their results or to ask further questions about their opinions and ideas.


  1. Why do you eat gluten free?
  • Celiac Disease
  • Gluten intolerance
  • By choice
  • Doctor Recommended for other Health Issues
  • Other
  1. On a scale of 1-5, how would you rate our dining hall in terms of having gluten free options?
  • 1 stood for “no options”
  • 5 stood for “more than enough options”
  1. What would you change (if anything) about the dining experiences as a gluten free student? (Actual responses in italics)


  • More variety!
  • Have people be slightly more educated on the topic
  • more options that are of good, high quality
  • Make each dining hall always have gluten free bread available! Only commons has it during lunch AND dinner and only commons has gluten free pizza already put out, no need to special request it. It’s kind of embarrassing having to ask for a gluten free item and then wait there awkwardly waiting on it. It’s nice having the gluten free options out with the normal food so I can feel normal
  • have more options besides salad
  • More options and much better labeling.
  • I would make sure that every meal has a gluten free option
  • Make a station in regattas or commons just for gluten free students, offer more gluten free cereals
  • Having more knowledge about cross contamination
  • Gluten free zone with no cross contamination
  • It was a bit difficult, especially as a vegetarian, but I always found something I could eat.
  • Better labeling of ingredients in dishes
  • Less gluten
  • More gluten free options
  • More available without asking
  • gluten free options for everything that is gluten
  • More options
  • Better labeling during Chef’s Choice days, as I cannot enter the dining halls currently and know that what I’m eating won’t make me sick.
  • More options during theme meals
  • The buns are good, but the bread could be much better.
  • Have more options for us, so we don’t have such limited meals.
  • More options and readily available pasta instead of having to wait awkwardly. Also more options for dishes and better labeling
  • Better options and better prep of the food
  • More options. Most “gluten free” options are cooked in the same place as gluten products which causes contamination. I can’t eat most of the options they provide
  • Apparently, you can ask for gluten free options to pretty much anything in the dining halls, but many students don’t know that. Besides a wider selection of gluten free items available, I would suggest actually letting gluten free students know that there are those options available. Spreading this awareness will help students feel more included and satisfied with the variety that is open to everyone else, instead of once again going to the salad bar (like I do all of the time) because they don’t know their options.
  • I would make it mandatory that there must be one meal that is clearly marked as gluten-free at every meal. I would also add a section in the healthy Haven to provide room for this meal and require that it not be a meal that replaces for instance spaghetti with pasta, with spaghetti sauce over gluten-free pasta noodles – gluten-free pasta noodles are generally extremely unhealthy and are not a proper substitute for either a bed of vegetables or another alternative. in addition, theme-meals should be required to have not just an option that has no gluten, but an actual meal other than salad that has no gluten. You might’ve noticed by this response, but I hate salad and I’m still required to be gluten-free; I also dislike the fact that the meals often don’t have any gluten-free options marked clearly, and that about once a week in the dining hall the same thing happens.
  • Making sure gluten free food had not been mixed with anything that contains gluten
  • Better quality of gf options and a wider variety
  • Keep GF pasta at the pasta bar and have a cooked GF pizza in Regattas like the do in Commons


  1. How concerned are you about cross contamination?
  • Not concerned
  • Somewhat concerned
  • Concerned
  • Very concerned
  1. On a scale of 1-5, how would you rate dining hall staff with their knowledge of cross contamination?
  • 1 stood for “absolutely unaware”
  • 5 stood for “extremely aware and take necessary precautions”
  1. Have you ever been in the situation where you felt there was nothing you could eat in the dining hall?
  • Yes
  • No
  1. If yes, how often?
  • Rarely
  • Once a month
  • Once every couple weeks
  • Once a week
  • Many times a week
  1. When you feel unable to eat anything in the dining halls, where do you go for food?
  • CNU Village Dining options
  • Off campus
  • Make food in residence halls/kitchen
  • DSU dining options
  • other
  1. Any extra comments and concerns you have about being gluten-free at CNU: (Actual responses in italics)


  • Stop making gluten free brownies more expensive than regular brownies!! It’s so annoying when I just want to treat myself but I have to pay $5 for a brownie that is like half the size of the $3 brownies at einsteins
  • I usually eat Mongolian. The staff at this station are very knowledgable about gluten allergies!
  • I don’t have a perpetual gluten free diet, but I made it work for a week. It’s much harder to be a vegetarian than gluten free at CNU.
  • Educate the staff, they get frustrated whenever I ask for gluten free alternatives and it is embarrassing.
  • I’m also allergic to dairy, so my life sucks. There’s always some thug that’s gluten free or dairy free, but rarely something that is both.
  • More education about cross contamination
  • often times the gluten-free food is either not labeled or labeled incorrectly and the dining hall staff is unaware of which foods are safe to eat. There are often not enough options or no options at all that are gluten-free and in cases where there are options, it is often using unhealthy gluten free versions of pastas and breads which of been shown to have detrimental effects upon health across the board. it is often frustrating to go to the dining hall after paying for a meal plan and be unable to eat anything or be forced into having only one option which can often times be salad. Being gluten-free does not mean that I want to eat salad all the time, I hate salad, I would like to be able to pick a meal from a group of meals like anybody else. Another frustration I have is that the gluten-free options are often not prepared and you have to wait long periods of time to have them prepared while standing in line, jamming up the system. there are many things wrong with the system as it stands and correctly labeling the food every time is only the beginning.




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