Last updated on April 30, 2020
One way to view our campus is looking at it like a puzzle. All of the pieces are different and unique, none of them are exactly the same. But, in order to complete the puzzle you need all the pieces. Otherwise your puzzle is incomplete. SJU is similar. We have students that are all unique in their own ways. We wouldn’t be the same without each and every one of our students. But, we need to shape our campus in a way that will allow all the pieces of the puzzle, or the students, find their place on campus. Otherwise our campus is incomplete. No matter how different or unique a puzzle piece may seem, none of the pieces are a misfit, they all fit into the puzzle.
One essential piece to making sure the puzzle is complete is having an accessible campus. With the way our campus is currently structured, some people can feel like fits and others misfits. Each student that walks onto our campus should have the equal opportunity to feel at home and like they belong at SJU. But, what I have noticed is something as simple as going from the Hawks’ Landing parking garage to Merion Hall is not the same experience for a person who uses a wheelchair and a person who can walk.
The terms fit and misfit only entered my vocabulary list about three months ago when I did a reading by Garland-Thomson. The definition of “fit” is something that is “in harmony with the requirements, something that fills a given space, something that is right.” While misfit means an “inaccurate fit; unsuitability, a person who doesn’t fit in or the act of not fitting”
A misfit occurs when a body enters an environment that doesn’t function in a way that the person’s body is shaped. People with disabilities shouldn’t have to fix their bodies to fit the environment, the environment is what needs to be fixed. As humans, we have categorized different groups of people as a fit or misfit and have created the issue ourselves. We are basing these definitions on the majority of the population without taking a careful look into how the structures of our everyday life affect others.
Being able to fit or not determines whether someone can enter into a building or have the access to join a group or a community, such as the SJU community. If a building does not have access to an elevator, as some of our educational buildings do not, then a person who uses a wheelchair may not be able to take certain courses that they would like to take or that they need to take in order to graduate. This then results in these students feeling like a misfit and potentially making them unable to attend the university.
I was able to conduct a Q and A with some of my fellow classmates. Many of their responses are ideas and points that I’ve picked up already, but hearing what they had to say just reemphasized the need for a more accessible campus. Three of them do not use a wheelchair, while one of them has had a recent injury that caused her to have to use crutches.
Question 1: What buildings do you have classes in? And would you say these buildings are accessible?
Student one: “Each building has an elevator: more accessible for students. The newly added ramp definitely helps to get to Bellarmine and Post Hall. Science Center is also accessible with a ramp near one of the entrances. Merion is less accessible because coming from the side near Cardinal Foley Center, it’s necessary to go downstairs, and the ramp is out of the way. Merion is least accessible.”
Student two: “Bellermine and Merion are more difficult for people to reach who are on crutches or use a wheelchair. Merion is across the street and every entry point has steps. Bellermine also has stairs. If you don’t want to take the stairs you have to go all the way around to the ramp by the library.”
Student three, a junior, has classes in Post, Merion, Bellarmine, and Barbelin. “The bellarmine elevator is so slow, I literally would just hop up the stairs instead and Barbelin has no elevator so it sucked.”
Question 2: Aside from your classrooms, is there anywhere else on campus that you feel is inaccessible? If so, where?
Student one: “The packaging center is not very convenient or easy to get to because there’s only a big staircase down with no other entryway.”
Student two: “Barbelin, there’s no elevator and stairs at every entry.” ‘
Student three: “Getting from Post to Barbelin. There’s a ramp part way and then steep stairs. I went completely, an extra 10 mins on crutches, out of my way. There was no easy route.”
Student four, a senior. “Barb and the music studio.”
Question 3: Have you ever felt like you fit or misfit on this campus?
When I asked this question, many were confused and didn’t know the definitions of what these terms meant. This just begs the question, do we need to educate people on this topic?
Students one/four: “Unsure.”
Student two: “I’ve never felt this way.”
Student three: “Fit.”
Question 4: On average, when walking, how long does it take you to get from Hawks’ Landing to Merion Hall?
Student one: “About 15-20 minutes.”
Students two and four: “About 10 minutes.”
Student three: “Regularly 15 minutes, but on crutches about 25-30, but same route, walking City Ave.”
Personally, I’ve taken both routes. I’ve walked City Ave and through campus. Taking City Ave makes you feel like an outsider to campus. I take that route when I’m in a rush or want to listen to my music, while the campus route is scenic and you get to pass your friends and say hi. Realistically, someone who uses a wheelchair is most likely going to take City Ave. Going through campus would be an enormous extra amount of time. You would have to go up to Sorin parking lot and then around to the crosswalk, as opposed to cutting through Barb courtyard. The fact that someone cannot take the same route with the same amount of time ultimately can lead them to feel like a misfit on a campus.
Question 5: What suggestions do you have for the SJU community in order to make our campus more accessible?
Student one: “I think the new ramp by Sweeney Field was very helpful so maybe the school can make other advancements similar in other areas around campus.”
Student two: “Add more elevators and walkways and more time in between classes.”
Student three: “More ramps.”
Student four: “More direct paths to buildings instead of students with disabilities having to take the long way to get there.”
These last two questions were only asked to student three.
Question 6: Have you ever run into any issues getting around specific buildings on crutches?
“Yes, getting to Barbelin from Bellarmine or Post.”
Question 7: Were others on campus helpful when you needed help getting around?
“I tried getting a ride from public safety to class once but I would have been 20 minutes late to class even though I called early.”
As Garland-Thomson wrote, anyone can be a fit today, and a misfit tomorrow. Accidents can happen and people start to grow old and need the assistance of a walker or wheelchair. Thinking in that mindset, if someone were to get injured, just as one of the students I spoke to, would that change their view on creating a more accessible campus? As a community, it is essential to put yourself in the point of view of others and think about how we can create a campus that fits every piece of the puzzle.
If you ever find yourself on campus looking for alternate roots, below I have outlined four different routes that you can use to navigate through SJU’s campus!
-Margaret Blanco, 2021