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For the past year, many of us have looked on as much of the world keeps turning. We wait inside and live what feels like the same day over and over again as some of our most formative years as college students pass us by. Much of our time is spent in front of screens and anticipating when things might return back to normal. But, this pandemic has forever altered the way we see the world and our place in it. As much as we don’t like to admit it, things won’t ever be the same. Many students have experienced enough anxiety and grief for a lifetime, and it is in these difficult times that the Chapman community has both uplifted us in invaluable ways and disappointed us. This particular feeling is especially felt by many students with disabilities who are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and having lingering health complications from the virus. As founder and president of the Chapman Spoonies, a club for students with chronic illness that engages in disability activism and advocacy, I have never felt more supported by my disability community and less supported by certain factions of the larger Chapman student community. For both disabled and non-disabled students, however, the current party culture propagating in and around Chapman’s campus induces much anger and disappointment in our student body.
While many of us continue to stay at home to protect ourselves and those that we love, we have been forced to stand by and watch the social media of our fellow students recklessly partying and engaging in unsafe activities that endanger both our fellow students and faculty. We feel robbed. Robbed of our experiences on campus with our friends and robbed of an in-person education of which educational inequity is at the core of our concerns. As a senior, I feel that my time at Chapman has come to a close without the closure I need to say goodbye to my friends and to the place which I have called home for the past four years. While myself and many others mourn this time lost and opportunities missed, there continue to be those students at Chapman who are either ignorantly unaware or willfully ignoring our difficult position. For the past few weeks, many of my class discussions have been surrounding the dawn of the @chapmansuperspreaders account and the public exposure of actions by students who appear to be proudly advertising their indifferent disposition toward this pandemic and the over five hundred thousand lives lost to it.
Even with the opportunity to return back to in-person learning after spring break, not a single one of my disabled or non-disabled friends, in addition to classmates who I don’t personally know, feels safe returning to campus, let alone in-person learning due to these actions. On behalf of the rest of the student population who has been deeply affected by this pandemic, I am asking something which seems all too simple, yet has proved extremely difficult for the entirety of our student body to exhibit in the past year–I am asking that you have empathy. Empathy for your fellow students, our faculty, and staff. Imagine yourselves in our position and try to see this situation from another person’s point of view who might not have the same resources that you do. In my shoes, I cannot afford to catch COVID-19 due to the medical costs it would incur. In my shoes, if I were to contract COVID-19, the odds of my survival are low and odds that I have longevity in my long term health if I do survive are less than optimistic. In my shoes, I have had to go on a leave of absence from work at a company that I dearly love because I cannot safely work in person. As a result, I have not seen most of my friends and coworkers in over a year and I am in a constrained financial situation.
If our entire student body thought more critically about how their actions would affect others from the beginning of this pandemic, it is possible that myself and many others could have spent at least some of our time on campus, which is especially poignant for seniors who are not local to Orange. When you agree to be part of a government, school, or other organization, you agree to give up some of your freedoms for the good of the group. None of us want to stay away from our friends and attend school virtually, but we have to for the good of the school and country. If we had more empathy and patience, we could all enjoy the freedoms currently enjoyed, and unfortunately taken for granted, by many students.
Especially as someone with a disability, this past year has been extremely difficult in that these careless actions have demonstrated time and time again that the disability community is persistently overlooked and unthought of in this pandemic by those in our own student body. These reckless actions contribute to the marginalization of our community on our campus as none of us feel safe to return because of the decisions made by those who abuse their privilege to be on campus and receive in-person instruction. Every time we watch a new video or see a new picture of a massive gathering, we are reminded that society believes our lives are of less value than those who are non-disabled. The message being sent to our community is clearly heard, and we demand severe repercussions for complicity in the perpetuation of such indifference and recklessness.
As a community, we demand that the student body and our administration do better. Choosing to be safe and not endanger the health of others by having large gatherings is the first step in becoming a more meaningful part of the Chapman community by uniting us rather than dividing us. It is important to emphasize that like any form of accessibility, creating greater accessibility of in-person learning and use of campus facilities by promoting safe practices benefits everyone who wishes to return, not just those with disabilities. So, as we move forward, I am calling our entire student body to greater empathy and accessibility and I am calling on our administration to uphold the values that they advertise. To the students, please think of your peers and professors, both the disabled and non-disabled, and what they have lost, but especially reflect on what they could gain by changing your actions. To the administration, it is time to amplify the voices of students in the disability community and make remediating our marginalization a priority in your diversity and inclusion efforts.
So, in anticipation of spring break, here are four action items from the Spoonies on behalf of the disability community at Chapman that we advise should be implemented by the university’s administration to discourage unsafe behaviors which jeopardize the health and safety of the Chapman community:
- Create a greater culture of accountability by encouraging students to report unsafe misconduct to the Dean of Students Office. Without greater efforts to promote transparency, we instead perpetuate a culture of silence that will continue to cause our community to deteriorate and keep us divided.
- Subject those students who violate COVID-19 safety conduct to a jury of their peers. Just as with other code of conduct processes, the students should be able to use their voice to address how actions committed by their peers have harmed them and the larger community. Students with disabilities, especially, should be included in this jury.
- Uphold severe punishment, such as revoking all use of campus facilities for the remainder of the semester, long-term suspension, or expulsion for those proven to be guilty of violating COVID-19 conduct measures, especially if done so flagrantly and shamelessly on social media with consideration to the extent of their involvement in the organizing and/or overseeing of such unsafe activities. A slap on the wrist of a brief suspension or other lenient disciplinary measures tells the rest of the student body, and especially the disability community, that our well-being is not worth a greater consequence. It also tells those students who are engaging in unsafe activities that they can continue to do so without major repercussions.
- Moving forward, there must be more meaningful and concrete efforts on behalf of the administration to consult the disability community at Chapman in constructing and implementing policies, strategies, programs, etc. which directly affect and involve us. Nothing about us can be decided without us. This begins with returning our emails and attending our advocacy and awareness events, as well as our open discussion forums. There is much work to be done, but we extend a thank you to Lauren Lockwood in the Dean of Students Office who has recently begun this process with us.
Taylor Hein is a senior English major with minors in Holocaust History and Disability Studies at Chapman University. She is the Founder and President of the Chapman Spoonies, a student organization which she started in 2018 to provide a community for students with chronic illnesses and engage in disability activism and advocacy.
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