Photo by Mary Madison Baker
The Office of Disability Resources is searching for a permanent director to fill the position after Isabella Moreno’s abrupt departure in early October. Meanwhile, Assistant Dean Monique Burgdorf has been appointed interim director.
Moreno’s departure left the office with no permanent full-time staffers. The office was embroiled in controversy last month after messages circulated on Facebook suggesting that Moreno resigned due to an overwhelming workload.
Now that the College has revealed plans to address campus anxiety about the office, it is once again the focal point of major student mobilization.
Many students feel that the hiring of a new director is an insufficient solution to ongoing problems the ODR faces. Students Building Community Power hosted a March for Disability Justice yesterday afternoon to “show the Oberlin administration that we have not forgotten about the Disability Resource Crisis,” according to the Facebook event page.
Students gathered at Mudd and proceeded to march to administrative buildings. Students Building Community Power demanded five permanent ODR full-time staff with proper training in disability support and a separate, accessible office space with a common area designated exclusively for disability resources.
Protesters chanted, “Don’t cut our accommodations; don’t ruin our chance at an education.”
Several students delivered personal accounts of their experiences with the ODR and shared sentiments about how the office has been continuously deteriorating. Narratives were also read on behalf of students who claim that they are no longer able to attend Oberlin because their disability support needs were inadequately met.
Protest organizer, College sophomore, and Student Senator Liz Cooper said she wants administrators to know that students will not stop advocating for justice for people with disabilities.
“The student body is paying attention,” Cooper said. “The Oberlin administration will not be able to undercut students with disabilities for budgetary reasons without student attention. We will not forget about students with disabilities.”
College senior and protester Max Cooper stressed the importance of recognizing the critical impact disabilities have on students’ lives.
“As someone with several disabilities, I can say that it was difficult before, but it’s completely inaccessible now,” they said. “The College owes support to its students. It owes us an education and we are here to take action. A lot of people without disabilities don’t realize how disabilities affect their peers. Disability resources are vital to our campus.”
All-OSCA Accessibility Coordinator Alison Cameron said she wants to see the administration prioritize student needs.
“In the past we have not centered student needs,” Cameron said. “Disabled students should be recognized as a large group on this campus — literally one fourth. We are visible. We are angry. This is a protest to address the lack of resources, and to acknowledge the students who have not been able to get those resources.”
Assistant Dean and Multicultural Resource Center Director Toni Myers, chair of the search committee, appreciates that students are taking action, and wants to incorporate student opinions in searching for an ODR Director.
“The demands are sound, reasonable, and within the scope of the institution’s commitment to provide resources to students with chronic illnesses, disorders, and disabilities,” Myers wrote in an email to the Review. “I’m absolutely certain that Oberlin administrators are in agreement with the student body that disability resources are of critical importance to the academic success and holistic well-being of Oberlin students. We are committed to cultivating an incredibly talented pool for the search and we look forward to students’ engagement with the search process.”
Myers added that she hopes the resurgence of student activism around disability could lead to the creation of longstanding student organizations and resources on campus.
“I hope that students will feel encouraged and empowered to create a student organization, which might unite them as a community and provide them with the opportunities to bring speakers, organize events, and increase critical engagement in disability justice, healing justice, and sick, disabled, POC communities,” she wrote.
Student Search Committee member and double-degree senior Rebecca Klein echoed Myers’ sentiments regarding the importance of student input.
“There are many perspectives that need to be taken into account in hiring a new director; I believe the student perspective is invaluable,” Klein said. “The new director will need to not only have expertise and skills, but they will also need to be a person students can trust. We are all impacted by disability in different ways, and conversation on the topic can be challenging.”
During her time as interim director, Burgdorf hopes to bring some stability to the office amid the tense campus climate.
“[There] needs to be a conversation that includes staff, students and faculty — we need to talk about why the climate is so challenging for students,” Burgdorf said. “I watch students bottom out during midterms and sometimes they don’t come back up. I watch faculty and staff struggle too. I watch the whole student population go into crisis twice a semester. If they are in such a state, what are they learning, exactly? How is this model contributing to our educational goals? I feel as though it is almost normalized here, kind of like “this is the way we have always done it” kind of thing. That students expect to be miserable. I am positive one director cannot fix this, but I hope they will keep theconversation going and be a good listener.”
Burgdorf emphasized that reforms to the ODR should improve the support available to all students on campus.
“I hope the institution focuses on the reality that these are our students,” she said. “If we focus on universal design, we will improve things for all of the students I feel passionate about supporting, first generation/low income students, students of color, and students with disabilities. We have an obligation to support our students.”
Burgdorf encourages the students involved in organizing the protest to come speak with her.
“I want them to know that I will make time for them, but I also want to be mindful of continuing to work with the students who also need our support,” she said.
The ODR Director search committee is chaired by Myers. Other committee members include Professor Yolanda Cruz, Associate Professor Janet Fiskio, Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences Elizabeth Hamilton, Conservatory Associate Dean of Academic Support Chris Jenkins, Associate Professor Laura Romberg, College sophomore Ehryn Ortega, and Klein.