Before I get started, let me go ahead and say, this post is in no way meant to take away from the importance of diversity & inclusion as it relates to race, color and all other areas.
NASPA (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education) is the leading association for the advancement, health, and sustainability of the student affairs profession. In the Student Affairs Master’s program at Clemson, we often talk about the importance of developing these professional competencies. One of the competencies I recently started to further develop is the area of equity, diversion, and inclusion. (Honestly, in a Student Affairs program, you begin developing this competency whether you are intentional or not).
NASPA recognizes and appreciates diversity in relation to, and across the intersections of, race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, veteran status, age, socioeconomic status, and disability. Believing in inclusive environments, we emphasize the importance of understanding, approaching, and owning diversity and equity from a personal, interpersonal, institutional, and global level.
When I attended the National NASPA conference in March, I attended several workshops relating to diversity. The workshops provided great information, programming, etc. to use with diversity education, but I noticed they focused on the same areas of diversity: race, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Again, I truly understand the importance of educating ourselves and our students in these diverse areas, but I feel because they are such a buzz topic right now we’ve forgotten about some of the other diverse populations.
In my opinion, the forgotten about diverse area is individuals with disabilities. The word disability and whether or not you agree with its usage is another post for another day, so don’t get caught up on it for the moment.
Something happened in my office (academic advising) recently breaking my heart and encouraging this post.
To make what could be a long story, short, let me lay out a few things for you. Every student at Clemson is required to see their academic adviser in order to register for classes each semester. During the scheduled appointment advising times, a 5 minute “buffer” is in place for students to get to their appointment. Therefore, if a student has an appointment at 9:20 he/she has until 9:25 to walk in the door. After the 5 minute buffer passes, students must reschedule their appointment.
Is this a fair rule? Absolutely! The response I typically give students upset because they need to reschedule for arriving more than 5 minutes late, “Would you show up to a job interview late?”
Do I think there are times when you ignore the rule and do the right thing by the student? Absolutely! (to an extent of course)
I promise, this is making it’s way back around to diversity and inclusion.
As far as I know, we have ONE student out of 500 in a wheelchair. This student is confined to his/her wheelchair with very little mobility in his/her arms. This student happened to show up at 9:26 for his/her appointment. That’s right, just one minute past the 5 minute buffer. I could see the frustration on their face and I just knew the tardiness was out of his control.
I pleaded through the look in my eyes for the adviser to take the student on back to their office for the advising appointment, but instead this student was told to reschedule and turned away. As my heart broke, my blood begin to boil. At this specific moment, there was nothing I could do to get the appointment to take place, but in the back of my mind I was beginning to take action.
I needed a few minutes to breathe and cool down so I took a walk around the building (inside and out). I’ve worked in this building since September and not once have I considered the accessible doors locations (or lack thereof). For a building with at least six exterior entryways, ONE of them is “accessible”. By accessible I mean, no stairs. (aka…not accessible).
I came back to my office and emailed the student. I apologized and begged him/her to help me understand the limitations he/she faces outside and inside this building and around campus. I truly wanted to advocate for the student. Yes, he/she is just ONE of our 500+ students but he/she matters just as much as the other 499.
This is an excerpt from the email I received.
First and most importantly, I want to thank you for worrying about me. It really means a lot to me and I really do appreciate it! The only thing that I have trouble with at Sirrine really are the doors because I can not open them by myself so I have to wait for somebody to open them so I can go in, but almost every building on campus is like that so it’s not a big deal.
When I read your e-mail, I got really happy because I see that there are people who care about my needs.
cried. Bawled. You may think I took to the tissue box because a student thanked me and appreciated me and while I’m thankful I had that impact, that’s not the real reason I sobbed like a baby. This student doesn’t think it’s a big deal he can’t get in the majority of buildings on campus, because we haven’t made the effort to let him know it is a big deal. That’s what I mean by “Diversity: It’s More than Race & Color”. We’ve forgotten about every piece of diversity and inclusion. ALL our students matter and all our students deserve to be advocated for. Whether ONE of 500 or 450 of 500, our responsibility as student affairs practitioners is to advocate and make a difference in the lives of our students.
What does accessibility look like around you? You never know who may need you to look around, ask some questions, and make a difference.