Office of Disability Resources Vital to Community, Institution

As significant budget constraints threaten to jeopardize everyday aspects of campus life, the Oberlin community has rallied around the Office of Disability Resources — an office that a large number of students regularly depend on for support. Neglected over the course of the past few semesters, the ODR is a perfect example of the kind of resource that is so vital to Oberlin’s core values that members of our community must make sacrifices to keep it afloat. The departure of former Interim Director Isabella Moreno is — and should be — a wake-up call for students and administrators alike, as it represents the latest debacle in a history of inadequate service for those who need it. The ODR must be staffed to full strength to meet not just the needs, but also the rights, of students who depend on the office’s proper functioning.

Comparing disability services at Oberlin with that of any of our peer institutions is an exercise in futility, given the disproportionately high number of students in our community who require such support. Nearly a quarter of the student body — 23 percent, to be precise — is actively enrolled with the office, a figure made all the more stark by the ratio of ODR staff to students in need at this semester’s start: about 1 to 700. Though two part-time staff started on Sept. 11, the two weeks prior to their arrival represent an unacceptable level of negligence on the part of those in a position to bolster the ODR’s capacity, not to mention a curious lack of preparation for an employee shortfall that should have been entirely predictable.

On Oct. 3 — one day after Moreno’s resignation — Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo sent a school-wide email in response to a widely-circulated Facebook post concerning Moreno’s departure. The post, after decrying Moreno’s treatment at the hands of her superiors, included the text of an email sent by Raimondo to ODR staff members Sept. 23 requesting that they cease communications regarding staffing shortages to students and parents due to the potential damage such complaints might cause. In her Oct. 3 letter, she did not address that leak, but did assure students that a search committee was already in the works to locate and hire a new director for the ODR.

The Editorial Board has previously called for the administration to practice transparency when it decides to preserve or, if necessary, eliminate school programs. But even Moreno was neither aware of any plans to hire a new ODR director, nor conscious of the additional permanent position alluded to in Raimondo’s email — in fact, Moreno cited lack of institutional support as the primary reason for her resignation.

The community, then, is right to ask why both the ODR and its students were kept in the dark about a process which directly and intimately concerns them. The administration has expressed its desire to include students and staff in the upcoming hiring process for the ODR, as is standard procedure — but if we are to be included in the latter stages, shouldn’t we at least be informed of the process in the first place?

In our Sept. 15 editorial, “Students Must Advocate for Departments, Programs,” we called on our fellow Oberlin students to speak out for the programs and services which define their experience at the College. That is precisely what is happening now. The student response to the state of the ODR — and Moreno’s resultant resignation — was swift and loud, with many reaching out to express their concerns to Associate Dean of Students Matthew Hayden, Raimondo, and, most recently, President Carmen Ambar herself. Their voices tell the story of an office which — while not always capable of providing every needed service — a large portion of the Oberlin community relies on. As we take stock of what matters most, the Office of Disability Resources has emerged as a priority at the top of that list.

The Review sat down with Moreno this week as she poured her heart out about the students she loved so dearly and the often-isolating work environment in which she worked 70 or more hours a week to serve them. She spoke of a program that had been dismantled “one limb at a time,” doomed to fail under a system more concerned with budget than student needs. While we truly believe that every member of our college’s administration is doing what they think is best for students, it is understandably difficult for onlookers to reconcile the state of disability services on campus over the past year with the good intent expressed by deans.

As President Ambar has stated clearly throughout her successful first month in the position, it is her administration’s job to consider, above all, the needs of the institution — and she is right that such an approach is absolutely necessary for the College’s long-term success. But that means we can’t just fight for the things that directly affect us; we need to be willing to make sacrifices to allow vital resources like the ODR to thrive. It is inappropriate to expect disabled students to individually advocate for the basic resources they need to survive at this institution.

Any college’s merit should be measured by its treatment of those who need its support the most. By that metric, Oberlin College has failed.