New RSO assists campus in understanding of life with chronic disease

Melisa Soysal
Melisa Soysal/THE REVIEW
Lauren Shapley, who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, started the Chronic Illness Advocates to create a safe haven for students suffering from chronic diseases.


Lauren Shapley’s yoga instructor required her to present a doctor’s note when she first missed the class earlier this semester. Shapley explained to the instructor that if she went to see a doctor every time she had joint pain, she would have thousands of notes in hands by now. However, the instructor insisted on requesting a doctor’s note.

As a student at the university who suffers from constant joint discomfort, Shapley said she was frustrated that the community doesn’t understand what she and other students who are chronically ill experience. She wanted to change it.

With desires such as raising awareness of chronic diseases and being able to be open to everybody, she gathered four other active club members to found a new Registered Student Organization, the Chronic Illness Advocates.

Lauren Shapely, a senior psychology major and the president of the Chronic Illness Advocates, was diagnosed with fibromyalgia several years ago. She started the RSO because she wanted to create a safe haven for students suffering from similar chronic diseases and advocate for change in various aspects of campus, including faculty members’ understanding of chronically ill students.

“I want everyone to feel as if their problems matter, and that they have somebody to talk to about their problems,” Shapley said. “If you feel like you struggle with certain internal and external hardships, physically, mentally and emotionally, you are welcome.”

Shapley said she not only wants to get her name out there and gain more members for the organization, but she also wants to better inform other people on campus so they are more accepting and understanding of the chronic disease community.

Shapley also said because of her own struggles and frustrations, she feels the need to make campus more aware of said frustrations. She is willing to educate others about chronic illness in order to enhance their daily interactions with the patients.

“If your best friend is chronically ill, come to us,” Shapley said. “Try to understand and sympathize, and get a better understanding of where we are coming from, what we deal with.”

According to Anne Jannarone, the director of Disability Support Services, the office has been seeing a growing number of students with medical chronic diseases at the university. In terms of supporting the group, the office offers accommodations based on students’ needs.

There are certain struggles this community is experiencing. Shapley said these circumstances include the fact that not all academic buildings have elevators, and the unreliability of the bus system, which can make students late for class.

“Even being registered with DSS, I am still experiencing a lot of stigma from professors,” Shapley said.

Shapley said her professors think she is just making up excuses for not finishing her work on time. She said it is already difficult enough for her to confess her medical condition to anyone, what makes it that much harder when the community is not understanding.

One of many goals of starting Chronic Illness Advocates, Shapley said, is to let the faculty at the university understand that students who are chronically ill don’t choose to miss a class, assignment or group project. She said they need to understand why students are behaving that way.

“Because of our frustrations, we need to make our college campus aware of our daily occurances that inhibit our performances,” Shapley said. “ Not only physically, but mentally as well.”

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