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Students unveil Interim Disability Community Center

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Years of advocacy by the Stanford disability community culminated in the unveiling of the Interim Disability Community Center (IDCC) on Feb. 29. After years of asking the University for a permanent disability center, students finally moved to claim a space as their own. The establishment of the IDCC, located in Old Union 218, represents the efforts of student groups such as Disability Equity Now, Power2ACT and the Stanford Disability Initiative (SDI), as well as the ASSU’s committees for Disability Advocacy and Mental Health and Wellness.

The IDCC will provide Stanford’s disability community with a space for disability-related programming, student meetings and other opportunities for community building. 

Outreach Chair of the ASSU Disability Advocacy Committee (DAC) Corey Lamb ’22 envisions the IDCC as “an open and welcoming space for the disability community to retreat to when they feel the need” and a “sanctuary from a university that is often ableist by design.” While its purpose is to provide disabled students with a sense of belonging and positive identity that advocates such as Lamb describe as much-needed, the IDCC is also open to those who do not identify as disabled.

“[The IDCC] is a welcoming space for everyone” wrote ASSU Director of Mental Health & Wellness Vianna Vo ’21 in an email to The Daily. “We want it to be a space where candid conversations can be carried out surrounding [disabled] identity.” 

Students in the disability community currently have access to the A-Hub, a disability-centered space housed in a second-floor conference room of the Career Education Student Services Building. But according to Lamb, the room’s primary function as an active work space for three different offices — BEAM Career Education, Office for Accessible Education (OAE) and the Schwab Learning Center — has led to students being given lowest priority for bookings, and at times, having their reservations cancelled last-minute. The Career Education Student Services Building also requires non-SUID keycard access during evenings and weekends, crucial hours for working around student schedules. Students cite these issues in deeming the A-Hub inadequate as a community center.

With its Old Union location, the IDCC is accessible to students at almost all hours of the day and night. Events that it will host include office hours hosted by OAE and Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP) on topics like getting housing and studying abroad while disabled, weekly DisabiliTEA community hangouts discussing disability identity and the Diversity and Access Office’s “What You Need to Know for Commencement,” a presentation on attending Commencement when one has access needs. The student group Stanford Disability Organization Empowering Students (S-DOES) will host community-building and storytelling meetings on Sundays from 11 a.m. to noon. 

The establishment of an interim community center, however, is far from the end goal of student activists.

“Our vision for the IDCC is … that its existence will show the University that there is a large, unfilled need for a real community center for the disability community,” wrote first-year Ph.D. student Cat Sanchez ’19. “Time and again, students with disabilities have organized for a center, but we cannot maintain it on student power alone. We need the University to provide a dedicated staff person who can pick up the slack when students with disabilities are struggling.” 

Sanchez, who is also the co-chair of the Stanford Disability Initiative (SDI), wrote, “The University’s repeated negligence in addressing our community’s needs beyond what is federally required of them (e.g., the OAE and the ADA-related work of the Diversity and Access Office) sends a strong message that the University does not consider students with disabilities an important (enough) or valuable (enough) part of the Stanford community.” 

Efforts to push the University to recognize disability as a legitimate identity have been decades in the making. In the ’80s, students wrote up a “report card on disability accessibility,” while an activist student group in the ’90s fought for a disability campus center, according to “ASSU Announces the A(bilities) Hub: Resources for Students with Disabilities.” 

The Meyer Library conference room that the disability community was granted as a temporary center in 2015 was never replaced when the library was demolished to create Meyer Green, according to student group Power2ACT. In the past few years, student rallies, committees, petitions and discussions with administrators such as Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole have left some students feeling frustrated. 

Repeatedly delayed promises to launch the application to establish a new community center led Bryce Tuttle ’20, former co-director of ASSU Disability Advocacy Committee, to accuse the administration of waiting for students who are invested in progress to graduate. 

Brubaker-Cole referred The Daily’s request for updates on progress towards a permanent disability center to Emelyn dela Peña, associate vice provost for inclusion, community and integrative learning. 

“The committee to hear proposals for student resource needs (including community centers) is pretty much seated,”  dela Peña wrote. “We are waiting for an undergraduate student rep to be named by [ASSU Nominations Commission. We will likely hear [the proposal for a permanent disability community center] … towards the end of Winter quarter or early Spring quarter.” 

dela Peña also disputed student accusations of purposeful administrative delays. 

“I can unequivocally say that we are not waiting for students to graduate so that we can bury this issue,” she wrote. “I am confident we will begin our work early in Spring quarter.”

Olawunmi Akinlemibola, chair of the ASSU Nominations Commission, confirmed that the ASSU received dela Peña’s request for a student representative on Jan. 30 and expressed its hope to provide the committee with a student representative “before the end of the quarter.”

Statistics suggest that the establishment of a permanent disability community center would meet a substantial need in the student body. In 2018-19, 17% of the student body had an OAE accommodation, according to Carleigh Kude, assistant director of disability advising at the OAE. Not all students who identify as disabled have OAE accommodations, however, and not all students with OAE accommodations identify as disabled.

To various students who identify with the disability community, a permanent disability community center at Stanford is a must.

“Finding a sense of community and belonging has been integral to my Stanford experience,” Vo said. “Holding a disabled identity, especially on a campus that is so ableist, is challenging, and having a community to support you as you learn how to navigate college can help alleviate the challenges that come with this identity.” 

Lamb, a transfer student from Fullerton College, agreed.

“I transferred from a community college [Fullerton] with strong support for disabled students,” Lamb said. “There we had the Adaptive Computer Lab … a place for specialized devices and tutoring for disabled students, but [which] also served as a community center. We always knew the lab was there for us to find other disabled students.”

“I cannot stress enough how important it was not only to my peace of mind, but also my ability to make it to Stanford,” he added.

Contact Elizabeth Kim at ebkim ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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