To the Editor:
I am writing in response to the March 20 op-ed “Against the disability identity center” by Krista Stapleford ’21. I am a physically disabled student with fibromyalgia who is serving on the board of the disability cultural center. I was disheartened to hear that a fellow student was against our efforts, but I believe we have had a misfire of messaging. I am writing to clarify and hopefully excite other students — physically disabled and not — about the center.
Disability is a unique identity because while I am unlikely to wake up a different race tomorrow, practically everyone will become disabled at some point in their lives. Whether it’s falling down and breaking a leg, or living a long time and having age-related dementia, we all must live with the reality of disability. Hence, the disability center is not, as the author alleges, meant to segregate disabled students but rather to be an inclusive center that recognizes disability as a broad category that most of us will fall into in some way. The center is meant as a resource, rather than an exclusive club.
The author also identifies many issues that disabled students face on campus. We on the board of the disability center are well aware of these issues. From visually impaired students being unable to see the board because the professor doesn’t know to write in black marker, to wheelchair and mobility scooter users being unable to traverse campus because the pavement is not fixed in a timely manner, to professors not following Student and Employee Accessibility Services accommodations — these are all issues we have heard about and personally experienced. However, change is possible. Student activism caused Wilson Hall, one of the biggest classroom buildings, to be renovated for accessibility. With a center, we can band together and demand accessible changes, like prioritizing snow removal for dorms where students with mobility impairments live or providing professors with workshops on universal design for learning. One student is not that powerful. Together, we are the most powerful group on campus.
Finally, many students struggle with navigating Brown’s systems for students with disabilities. Together, we can provide a knowledge base and support one another. We can serve as a clearinghouse for directing students to resources that are currently spread across many offices on campus, including Counseling and Psychological Services, SEAS, BWell Health Promotion and the Office of the Dean of the College.
The author points to the sad legacy of discrimination and education segregation of disabled students in this country. I would like the center to build on a happier legacy of disability rights activism and people coming together. With a space and formal as well as informal meetings, we can do great things. I would invite anyone with comments and suggestions for the disability identity and cultural center or who would like to get involved to email me directly. I would love to hear your thoughts — everyone is welcome, disabled or not.
Lena Bohman ’18
Board member, disability