Subcommittee formed to negotiate space for disability cultural center

Four women hold signs outside of a building as one speaks into a megaphone.
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The Space Assignments and Capital Improvements Committee, or SACI, is forming a subcommittee to analyze a proposal for creating a disability cultural center on campus and identifying a space for the center.

SACI voted to create the subcommittee April 1 after reviewing the proposal, which was written by the Disabled Student Leaders Coalition, or DSLC, and several other community members and submitted at the end of the fall semester. The vote came hours after a rally held by DSLC outside California Hall.

“We’ve had to deal with a lot of hurdles in order to make it happen, but I think the real catalyst for change was the rally we had last week,” said Alena Morales, a campus junior who co-founded DSLC and helped organize the rally April 1, in an email. “I think it really opened the administration’s eyes to the fact that we’re a legitimate community that needs to be recognized.”

According to the proposal, the goal of the space is to create a communal area that serves as a social, cultural and academic center for the disabled community and goes beyond medical and risk management space.

Katie Savin, a co-founder of DSLC and a third-year campus doctoral student, said she is “cautiously optimistic” about the subcommittee and hopes more accountability will be built into it.

“We were hoping it would be a bit more of a concrete ‘yes, you will have a space,’ ” Savin said. “We got a yes for a subcommittee, and this was a concrete movement, even if it wasn’t the guarantee that we hoped for.”

The subcommittee will be composed of “one graduate and one undergraduate student, a staff member from the Disabled Students’ Program, a staff member from the Disability Compliance Office, a professor of Anthropology/Disability studies, and staff and faculty representatives from SACI,” according to an email from campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

According to ASUC Senator Zach Carter, it is important that students are able to lead the subcommittee.

“One of my most disheartening ASUC takeaways is that on project committees or advisory committees, there’s simply a lack of students present, and instead administrators making decisions on student behalf,” Carter said in an email. “Such a vulnerable community as DSP simply can’t afford this lack of representation.”

According to Morales, the “best part” about the subcommittee is that it will have members of the disabled community at the forefront of the conversation.

According to Mogulof, a space for the center cannot be set aside until adequate funding has been identified.

It is, however, likely that the center will be funded by “school funds and raising donations,” including funding from Disabled Students’ Program alumni, according to Savin.

Proving the need for a disability cultural center to SACI was “difficult,” according to Savin. Morales echoed Savin, adding that DSLC has received an unexpected amount of pushback from administration.

“A lot of people don’t consider disability as a social-cultural identity; they consider it as something unfortunate that happens to someone or a biological flaw,” Savin said. “We have unique needs, we have unique ways of being excluded and discriminated against on campus, we have lower graduation rates (and) we have lower retention rates.”

Contact Maya Akkaraju at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maya_akkaraju.