Karen Nielson resigned from her position as director of UC Berkeley’s Disabled Students’ Program, or DSP, Wednesday, and will be moving to work at UC Santa Cruz as director of its Disability Resource Center.
Martha Velasquez, associate director, agreed to step into the interim executive director role with support from members of her leadership team, according to Fabrizio Mejia, campus interim chief of staff and assistant vice chancellor for student equity and success. Additionally, Mejia said campus is planning to initiate “a national search” to fill the role.
“It has been my great joy and pleasure to work with students with disabilities at Cal,” Nielson said in an email. “I am excited to continue my life’s work at UCSC. The excellent work of DSP will continue with much to look forward to.”
Carlos Vázquez, ASUC senator-elect and a co-founder and former co-chair of the ASUC’s Disabled Students Commission, said the commission was founded to gain more “leverage” in the student government body to better address issues students with disabilities face. The committee has worked closely with DSP on academic accommodations and various issues related to student safety during the pandemic, according to Vázquez.
Vázquez said he had the chance to work with Nielson due to the commission’s collaborations with DSP over the pandemic and added that he was able to grow a close and “lovely” relationship with Nielson. Vázquez wished Nielson the best moving forward with UC Santa Cruz.
Campus senior Cecilia Lopez said she has been a DSP student since the end of fall 2019 and has already gone through two DSP advisors. She added that though DSP has struggled with staff retention since the pandemic, she was not expecting Nielson to leave.
“I don’t have a lot of hope, honestly, in the DSP system at the time, just because of my experiences in the past three years,” Lopez said. “But I really do hope that they receive someone who’s able to help with the understaffing and give more care to students.”
Lopez alleged she has not received proper support or accommodations, noting she has not been assigned a DSP advisor since her previous advisor resigned in December 2021. Lopez alleged this was due to an influx of student applications, along with frequent staff turnover at DSP.
In response to the allegations, Mejia said understaffing has been a current issue across higher education and disability services, and that campus has approved of additional positions to leverage “sustainable workloads” to DSP staff.
“I am sad she is leaving,” Vázquez said. “We have to adjust how DSP operates and I am uncertain of how DSP will look like without Karen there. I am hopeful, but nervous at the same time.”