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Latex allergy causes campus changes

Photo: Lauren Horsch

How do you want to be known by the student body? Would you like to be defined by factors in your life that you cannot control?

“Oh, you mean wheel chair girl?” “There goes the gay kid.”

No. We would like to be thought of first and foremost as ourselves and as a name. That is exactly what we all want.

Drake University is a school that strives incredibly hard to accommodate every student’s needs to the best of their abilities. As students may be noticing around campus, Drake has issued a new “balloon-free” policy. Some of you may be confused as to why this is, and many activities may have planned on using balloons at specific events such as the Activities Fair (Wednesday, 4-7 p.m., Upper Olmsted).

After speaking with Michelle Laughlin, student disability services coordinator at Drake, I discovered that this was another recent accommodation. This fall, there is a new student who happens to have a severe allergy to latex. I am not just talking about a simple allergy that causes sneezing and a running nose. An encounter with latex could send this student into anaphylactic shock, a severe allergic reaction that can include fainting, swelling of the throat and other major symptoms that may pose a serious risk to this student’s health. The reason for the ban of latex balloons extends just a little further than this. To describe just how serious this student’s allergy is, say there is an event in Parent’s Hall that has latex balloons and the organization removes them at the end of the event. This student could even go into anaphylactic shock just by passing through that venue a day later because the balloons were previously there.

“It’s not about rubber bands, not about condoms and not about rubber balls,” Laughlin said. “With this case, the allergy circulates dominantly with balloons. You may not die because of your balloon, but who’s to say somebody else won’t? If it was your brother or sister, would you not like the same thing? We are all a community and we take care of each other. If we have to make something accessible for the purpose of making campus safer, we can and will.”

Dean of students Sentwali Bakari agreed that Drake will accommodate a student’s needs when it comes to safety.

“The real issue is we are trying to be as accommodating as possible,” Bakari said. “We are trying to be a welcoming and conclusive environment so the student feels welcome and can have their very best Drake experience. Once explained, students understand. Students are creative and find even more artistic ways to spread the news about their organization, and that is why I love these students. All students can succeed and feel as included as the next person. Nobody is defined by their disability here.”

For this reason, Drake requests that students only possess mylar balloons. It takes a lot of courage heading off to college where you are in an entirely different environment that you have no full control over. While Drake cannot prevent every possible encounter on campus, the university does its best to provide every student with the pillars outlined in our mission statement.

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