UC Berkeley community members rally for proposed disability cultural center

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About 30 people rallied outside of California Hall on Monday at 2 p.m. to show their support for the approval of an allocated space for a campus disability cultural center.

The Space Assignments and Capital Improvements Committee, or SACI, reviewed a proposal for the space at 3 p.m. in California Hall. The committee previously discussed the proposal March 11, but the final vote was pushed to Monday’s meeting.

“We have disabilities, but we are still students,” said Alena Morales, a campus junior and one of the project’s organizers. “We have lives, we have jobs, we have friends — we have friends who are also disabled, and we need a space to meet.”

The protesters chanted slogans such as “Community not compliance” and “What do we want? A disability space. When do we want it? Ten years ago.” They also held signs, including ones that read, “Stop profiting off of Berkeley being the birthplace of the disabled rights movement when you won’t even recognize our community today,” and they shared stories about common experiences on campus as people with disabilities.

According to Morales, SACI voiced doubts at its earlier meetings about whether there was a disabled “community” on campus. Many attendees at the rally said they disagreed with this sentiment and that they identified as members of a disabled community.

“This community is the only reason I have survived this extremely inaccessible university until now,” said Katie Savin, a campus graduate student and an organizer of the project. “It’s an isolating experience to be here (as a disabled student).”

According to Morales and Savin, the disability cultural center, which would serve as a universally accessible space with resources, accessible technology and space to spend time, would be run by members of the disabled community. The project’s organizers plan to apply for grants and find external money to fund the center after they receive a space from the university, which is “like gold,” according to Morales.

Other colleges and universities around the country have started to implement such centers into their campuses, including Stanford.

The center would differ from the already standing Disabled Students’ Program, as it would be a community organization rather than a compliance organization. This program would actively offer resources and programs to students meant to go beyond compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The project’s organizers are hoping for a space similar to the Gender Equity Resource Center, which is not only accessible but visible to the rest of the campus community. According to the project’s organizers, SACI previously offered them a basement space, but organizers were unwilling to compromise.

“(We are) tired of being shoved in the basements,” Morales said.

Contact Katherine Finman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.