First years report record E. coli numbers from Welcome Onions

Rachel Husband, Diseased

The Dean of Students Office released its annual report on E. coli infections among the first year population this Monday, and the results were astronomically high. Each year, Whitman College is required to publish the numbers of E. coli related illnesses derived from the staple welcome gift, a crate of Walla Walla sweet onions.

Normally, Whitman records only a few cases each year of E. coli-related illness, but this year nearly a fourth of all incoming first years reported symptoms, breaking the record 83 cases set in 1997. 

Illustration by Allyson Kim.

While most have harmless E. coli in the gut, several strains found in contaminated food or water can cause diarrhea — that is often loose, watery or bloody — stomach pains, cramping and sometimes nausea and vomiting. I came to be very familiar with the symptoms of E. coli as one of the 100 students who contracted the disease this year. While at first I attributed my concerning bowel movements to my recent struggle with lactose intolerance, it became clear as I ate more and more raw, dirty Whitman onions that the problem was something else: E. coli.

Associate Dean of Students Juli Dunn recently commented, “It just doesn’t make sense. I don’t know how we could’ve had such high numbers this year. We quality check each and every onion and they all passed inspection. You know, Kathy Murray actually has quite the nose for sniffing out a bad onion, literally. She runs her nose across all the onions every year and sorts them. Maybe she’s losing her touch, but I don’t think so. My best guess is the batch of first year students we admitted this year were particularly dumb and didn’t properly clean the onions before they ate them or something. Little fuckers.” 

As a member of the first year community currently overcoming the Welcome Onion E. coli outbreak, I have no response to Dean Dunn’s statement at this time.