An effort to make on-campus housing more accessible for all students has resulted in the creation of an inclusive community for students with a wide range of abilities.
The Center for Disabilities Studies will found a new living learning community (LLC) for the 2017-2018 school year, called DiverseABILITY. It will be comprised of about fifteen students; six residents will come from the CLSC (Career and Life Studies Certificate) program and the remainder will be incoming freshman undergraduates from all backgrounds and majors.
For her Summer Scholars project, Rebecca Jewell, a senior human services major, researched and helped develop plans for the launch of a residential component of the CLSC program.
“Our main goal is that all students come away with a greater appreciation and understanding of what diversity is and how they can spread that awareness in whatever they pursue,” Jewell said. “The residential component was the missing link in providing our [CLSC] students with a full college experience.”
The CLSC program is a two-year certificate path for students with intellectual disabilities. Previously, it was considered “non-residential” and there were no accommodations for on-campus housing.
There are currently three students from the program living on campus for the 2016-2017 year, as part of an experimental pilot program before the launch of the designated LLC. This was the first year that students in the CLSC program have been able to live on campus.
Jewell has been spearheading the LLC project along with Deborah Bain, a staff member at the CLSC program at the Center for Disabilities Studies.
“Our quest to have our [CLSC] students engaged in campus life is ongoing,” Bain said.
Prior to the launch of the LLC project, the two had noticed a lack of CLSC students’ engagement in student organizations and activities because of the logistics of commuting.
“Living on campus is a natural segue” to increased involvement, Bain said. Though the project is still in development, the LLC is expected to be located in either Louis L. Redding Residence Hall or the newer Academy Street dorms.
In addition to the traditional resident assistant, the LLC will also feature a peer mentor to aid in this integration process. This individual will work with LLC members, the Center for Disabilities Studies and Residence Life to foster community development and bring together a diverse group of students. The team is currently interviewing candidates for the position.
“This community will really focus on that greater awareness about the broad spectrum of diversity and greater awareness about themselves, about others and dispel some of the myths or stereotypes they might have about disability,” Bain said.
The LLC aims to focus on establishing diversity outside the realm of disability by curating a group of students with different backgrounds, races, religions and personalities.
“We’re focusing not so much on disability but community,” Jewell said, “and a space that welcomes all different types of diversity.”
Laura T. Eisenman is an associate professor in the School of Education and adviser for the interdisciplinary disabilities studies minor. She has been assisting with the development of the DiverseABILITY project as well.
“The whole idea of students with intellectual disabilities participating in inclusive college programs is relatively new,” Eisenman said. “They are growing in interest and number and it really is about expanding what it means to have diversity on campus to include a population that historically has not been given opportunities for additional learning.”
There will be an interest meeting for current CLSC students on March 15 who may be interested in living in the LLC next year.
Though it is a “small step” in the process of integrating all students to on-campus housing, the team hopes students will take the skills and values learned in the LLC and apply them to other parts of their lives on campus and beyond.
Bain envisions the LLC will create a ripple effect of acceptance at the university, an “inclusive environment where people respect each other, value each other and recognize the wealth diversity brings to teamwork.”