Campus community holds town hall, discusses disabled students’ community center

Student Coalition for Disability Rights/Courtesy

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UC Berkeley student organizers, faculty and allies gathered in Eshleman Hall on Friday for the inaugural Disability Community Town Hall to share stories and brainstorm ideas for an upcoming disabled students’ community center.

The meeting was co-sponsored by the UC Berkeley Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies, the Disabled Students’ Program, the Faculty Coalition for Disability Rights, the Student Coalition for Disability Rights, Berkeley Disabled Students and the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. It was led by Katie Savin, a campus doctoral candidate in social welfare, and campus junior Alena Morales, who is president of the Student Coalition for Disability Rights.

Much of the agenda at the town hall involved collecting recommendations for future community center locations and informing the community on the progress made on the center.

According to Savin and Morales, the process started with a petition to measure the public’s support. After initiating the petition and writing a letter to Chancellor Carol Christ, they said they gained the bureaucratic support they needed to start the project.

“We got, I want to say, around 300 signatures,” Morales said during the meeting. “We had spent the entire semester advertising. … We had brought that forth to the chancellor and just sort of outlined why we needed it, and they seemed to be receptive.”

In addition to providing an update on the center, Savin and Morales opened up the floor for public comment. Students, faculty and allies all took turns at the microphones, opening up about what the community center would mean to them and discussing recommendations for what they hope it will include.

One concern raised by many community members was the accessibility of the center, especially in regard to location. A town hall attendee suggested that services provided by the center be accessible via webcam for those who cannot easily make it to the community center in person.

Senior Alecia Barnes said at the meeting that she supports the idea of the community center because as a hearing-impaired, older re-entry student, she wants to advocate for a place where students like herself could get support and guidance.

After comparing her transcript in high school — where she was not provided with support services — to her transcript in community college where she was given the services, Barnes noticed that her academics had improved. In light of this discovery, Barnes decided she wanted to advocate for students to receive the support they need.

“We need a space where we can feel like we’re accepted — like we’re the not the exception, we’re the norm,” Barnes said. “(A place where) we’re surrounded by people that can give us support, give us guidance … give us a voice, give a place to de-stress.”

Sabrina Dong covers crime and courts. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Sabrina_Dong_.