Monday, December 7, 2009

Wish it luck

Mr. -----------, (VP of Student Life)

I am a 2009 graduate of ------ College. Just before my last semester at -------, my lifetime of differences was explained when I was diagnosed with autism. Autism is a neurological disorder with three main symptoms: social deficits, speech or language issues, and repetitive behaviors. Though I am a very capable student, I struggled terribly while I was living in the dorms; I was unable to regulate myself to sleep and eat on schedule and felt so socially overwhelmed that I frequently missed classes. My years of struggle culminated in my student teaching semester, which I had to drop after just several weeks due to an inability to keep up socially, emotionally, and organizationally. Being around people for so many hours a day was simply more than I could bear. I am grateful that my professors organized an alternative assignment for me, but they did not consider the fact that my autism was the reason I could not function as a student teacher. They were, frankly, clueless about how to handle such a situation. This is the reason spurring me to write to you. I want something better for future students of the College.

Consider ---------- College’s mission to “provide a high-quality education in a thoroughly Christian environment at an affordable cost.”

First, the College provides nothing but the best when it comes to quality academics. However, ----------- also has a very homogenous student body, barely reflective of what students will encounter in the real world after graduation. Students must be able to work with others who are not like themselves. At this point, students with disabilities may not feel comfortable applying to a college they do not feel is adequately prepared to serve them. If ---------- were more prepared to handle students with disabilities, more such students would consider --------in their college choices. Westminster, a college much like --------- but one with an Office of Disability Services, serves 85 students with disabilities on its campus. If it were better prepared to serve this population, I believe that the College would see an increase in the number of students with disabilities who apply. More diversity on campus will better prepare students for life outside the bubble.

Secondly, -------- seeks to provide an “authentically Christian” atmosphere in which students can learn and grow. Those in leadership hold those positions for a reason and must set the standard for the rest of the College by following the example Jesus set for us. In Mark 2, when Jesus heals a paralytic lowered through the roof of a house, we see that Jesus made a way for the man to access him when others would not. Similarly, we should allow students with disabilities access to a quality, Christian education. In John 9, Jesus was asked about a man born blind, and whether it was his mother’s fault or his father’s. Jesus responded that it was no one’s fault, but that God would be glorified through the man. Students with disabilities may be impaired in some ways, but they are also gifted in ways that glorify God and would be an asset to the campus. Finally, in a world that shows by example of abortion that prenatal children who may be disabled are disposable, we must send the message that they, most certainly, are not, and that we welcome them on our campus in every way.

You may say that we have a system in place for students with disabilities. From my own experience, allow me to explain the problems the current system presents. First, no one knows what it is. Professors are unsure of what to do when a student discloses a disability. In my own experience, their reaction was to keep it quiet; I was asked not to tell my department chair. Similarly, the counseling center does not refer students to speak to the correct person on campus about a disability. In my time at ---------, I was unaware that any help could be offered me and, by the reactions of my professors and the counseling center, they were unsure what to do and even uncomfortable with the situation. When a student meets with a professor about a disability that is affecting performance in class, it is terrifying. Professors are in a place of authority, and the student feels as if he or she has to acquiesce to whatever the professors say. By providing a disability counselor on campus, the student would have an informed an advocate when speaking to professors who may make decisions with which the student does not agree.

By providing a disability counselor on campus, the College could solve these problems. Students with disabilities would feel more comfortable applying to ----------, and the diversity on campus would increase. All students would benefit from this increase as it would better prepare them for life after graduation. As a college that seeks to be “authentically Christian,” ----------- should send the message to its students and the world that it accepts all who are seek such an education and are academically capable. Jesus gave us the example to follow. The current system for assisting students with disabilities is inadequate, as professors and students alike are unaware that any system is in place. Students would benefit by having a liaison between themselves and professors, whose authority can make them difficult to approach. Students with disabilities deserve the same access to a “high-quality education in a thoroughly Christian environment at an affordable cost” that all other students have. Please consider allowing students access to a disability counselor on campus.


  1. Beautiful, touching, well-written, well-argued!

    May it fall on fertile soil!

    (P.S. Might want to go back and put in a ----- for the college name in the 2nd paragraph, "Consider ------ College's mission...")

  2. Thanks, JoyMama. I caught that after the fact, of course.

  3. Lydia, that's an absolutely great letter in every way. Perfect.

  4. Go Lydia! So well thought out and written. Good for you. No matter what the outcome, you should be proud that you tried to make a positive difference for those who follow you. As a parent of a 6 year old on the spectrum, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  5. In most of the Commonwealth of Nations, there is a Disability Liasion Unit, in particular in Britain and Australia.

    It may be active, or it may not be. It may contain counsellors or psychologists or people who understand disabilities who may or may not have them themselves.

    Some universities even have clubs for people with disabilities, much like other groups. This is where you can get together and have activities, like a sausage sizzle or a protest.

    Thank you for the Westminister example.

    Your Christian and secular arguments alike are strong. This letter was written in the year of the Americans with Disabilities' Act's anniversary.