UC Berkeley allocates space for disability cultural center in Hearst Field Annex

Hearst Annex
Kaitlan Tseng/Senior Staff

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After years of student advocacy, UC Berkeley allocated a space for a disability cultural center June 18.

The disability cultural center will be in the Hearst Field Annex and will provide a myriad services such as serving as a central hub for disabled students, faculty, staff and local community members to access disability-related resources, find community or feel “comfortably disabled,” according to rising campus senior Alena Morales, chair of the ASUC Disabled Students Committee and co-founder of the Disabled Student Leaders Coalition.

The disability cultural center will be open fall 2020 pending precautions related to COVID-19 and will be adjacent to the Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center and Karen Nakamura’s Disability Lab, according to a press release from student organizers. All these spaces will share a joint kitchen and community garden.

“As a disabled person, it would be nice to chill in a space … where I can chill and not worry about how society sees me,” Morales said. “A space where I can connect with other people who feel the same isolation I feel.”

According to the press release, the cultural center will hire a full-time staff member to coordinate student development work with disabled undergraduate and graduate students. Some of the space will be used to disseminate disability-related information, actions and resources.

The center will also have conference rooms and a common study space, as well as a small room in which students can decompress, meditate or stim, a term used by the neurodivergent community to describe personal management strategies.

“A lot of neurodivergent students feel uncomfortable stimming in public,” Morales said. “They just want a place to do what they got to do where they aren’t being watched.”

Anyone is welcome in the cultural center, Morales added. The space is built for disabled students and there is “no boundary” for this space.

Morales said the space is also going to be open for disabled staff and faculty to connect with students who are disabled.

“This has been one of those processes that accentuates the bureaucratic process on campus,” Morales said. “Ultimately, what allowed us to get space is that we advocated so fiercely and (design firm) Sasaki reached out to underrepresented groups on campus to ask what they would want in a community space.”

Campus administration did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.

The Disabled Student Leaders Coalition, Morales said, has been meeting since about the end of 2017. The coalition has been advocating for an on-campus disabled student space since its inception.

UC Berkeley students have also been advocating for a disabled space for years prior to the Disabled Student Leaders Coalition, according to Morales.

“You fight for something that feels like the bare minimum, and now the window opens and we can push the bounds of what we need,” Morales said. “We’ve been spending years fighting fires to get the bare minimum.”

Contact Eric Rogers at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @eric_rogers_dc.

A previous version of this article incorrectly named the Space Assignments and Capital Improvements Committee as the group that reached out to underrepresented students to ask what they would want in a community space. In fact, the design firm Sasaki reached out to students.