Diabetes on Campus: One College Student’s Experience
As I discussed in our Diabetes 101: Tips for College Students article last summer, making the big transition to college life can be challenging for any incoming freshman, and special preparation is required for students with diabetes. We were lucky enough to learn about the transition firsthand from Wake Forest University senior, Amanda Mezer, who shares the precautions she took and the challenges she faced as a college student with type 1 diabetes.
Q: Can you start by telling us about your first year of college?
A: Going to school in North Carolina was definitely a new experience. I’m from Tampa, Florida, so I’m a thirteen-hour drive or two airplane flights away from home. I didn’t really know anyone, but Wake Forest accommodates students with diabetes, so that made the first year easier. My parents and I got everything set up with the health center right away. I was able to register for classes early and they allowed me to select the classes that worked best for my schedule.
During my first semester, I did rely on the student health center a few times during blood sugar lows and my Residence Assistant (RA) at the dorm was also very helpful. Another RA at my dorm was a paramedic, so it was comforting to know that there was someone who knew what to do, just in case there was an emergency.
After my first semester, though, I did go back home to Florida for a semester because I ran into issues managing my blood sugar. College was a big adjustment for me and the change in lifestyle resulted in the highest A1C I had ever experienced. Going home was a tough decision to make, but I talked about it with my medical professional and with my parents and we all made the choice together.
Q: How did things go when you returned to Wake Forest the following year?
A: Not so smooth. I was living in an apartment with two sorority sisters who didn’t like the fact that I had diabetes. During that time, I was bullied a bit because of it and almost got kicked out of the apartment housing. I ended up filing a claim against the school and the sorority to protect my rights. While the issue was being disputed, I took an additional two semesters off from Wake Forest and headed back to Tampa to go to school there and be with my family.
Q: What happened when you went back to Wake Forest your junior year?
A: When I returned to Wake Forest the third time, things were great. I was provided one of the ADA rooms where I was able to cook my own meals and have more control over my diet. Also, I was living alone, which I found to be easier since I had more control over the cleaning and I had less exposure to all the germs that get shared in residence halls.
Q: What activities have you been involved in while in school?
A: I have been involved with organizing events for the student union. This year, I’m starting a Students with Diabetes chapter at Wake Forest. I’m working with five other students who have diabetes and it’s really exciting! The health center has agreed to distribute educational information to any student who indicates on their health form that they have diabetes.
I’m starting the chapter because I think a group like Students with Diabetes would have helped my situation a lot. It would have helped to educate and raise awareness about diabetes and what it means to have the condition. I hope this organization gives others somewhere to turn.
Q: What do you plan on doing after you graduate in May?
A: Nicole Johnson, who started Students with Diabetes, has really turned me on to the idea of public health, so I’d like to get my Masters in Public Health at the University of South Florida. After that, I plan on attending law school. It would be great to advocate for other people with diabetes through law or to study entertainment law because I love theater.
Q: Do you have any advice for other college students with diabetes?
A: Yes, some of the most important things I’ve learned are:
- Try to get as much of a private room as possible – My freshman year I had pneumonia and a few other illnesses that I think could have been avoided if I wasn’t exposed to so many other sick people by living in the dorms.
- Tell your professors you have diabetes – I always tell my professors in case I have a blood sugar high or low and can’t make it to class. I don’t want them to think I’m skipping. Also, it’s important that they know in case my pump beeps in class, so they know it’s not a cell phone.
- Find a health care provider close to your school – I found an endocrinologist in Winston-Salem, so if I ever had an issue I knew who to go to. I also learned that if you ever have to go to the hospital it’s best to have your health care provider admit you, so you know you are under his/her care.
I want to thank Amanda for sharing her story and to congratulate her on her efforts to create a student resource that will help raise diabetes awareness on campus. While college has certainly presented her with some challenges, she appears to have done a great job facing down adversity and looking for ways to help others. She’s a great example who I think we can all learn from.
All the best,
Disclosure: Amanda Mezer received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.