A recurring theme in discussions of trigger warnings in college classes is the idea that students with PTSD should be going to campus disability offices, not professors, to ask for the assistance they need. This question has come up in my Facebook and Twitter feeds today, in response to the piece I just wrote for Inside Higher Education, and in the course of one such conversation my friend Andrea Chandler said a few things about her experience trying to work with the disability office at the college she was attending.
If you’re a professor and you think the disability office will handle this stuff, you need to read what Andrea has to say. If you think you don’t have a role in addressing these issues, you need to read what Andrea has to say. If you don’t understand that how you run your classroom could make the difference in which of your students graduate? Well, just read the damn thing:
Just getting the single accommodation I asked for, to bring my mobility service dog on campus, was a multi-semester nightmare.
Disability services on most campuses are an absolute joke. Try actually speaking to disabled students about what it takes to get even the simplest, most straightforward of accommodations. In my case, using my service dog meant first meeting the disability services guy, whose office wasn’t accessible. This is not unusual.
Then they wanted me to sign paperwork giving them access to my entire medical record, which would have disclosed more to them than I was willing to disclose. This was in addition to the specific paperwork from my doctor stating that my service dog was a medical necessity.
Finally, they wanted contact information for my parents or husband, to whom they would be reporting my academic progress.
It was only after I suggested we call the DOE Office of Civil Rights that they accepted that all they needed was that letter from my doctor. Until the following semester, when I had to have the exact same fight all over again, because apparently permanent disability is not a possibility schools have considered.
Meanwhile I was dealing with classrooms so stuffed with desks that they violated the ADA & Rehab Act standards on physical accessibility, instructors who constantly called attention to my service dog in class & who could never speak to me about class material without first trying to have a conversation about the dog, and even better were the instructors who made it clear they didn’t want a cripple in their classroom. When I suggested to Disability Services that the instructors needed training in dealing with disabled students *and offered to find DOE & DOJ training resources for free*, I was ignored.
So yeah, this isn’t my first rodeo where I’ve had someone come out and say I shouldn’t be in the classroom because I don’t fit their definition of what a student should be. I wish I were shocked by that attitude, but it’s very miserably common.
The biggest problem I see in the empathy-lacking anti-tw crowd is that they seem to believe that the prof-student relationship is all one way; in which student vessels receive knowledge from the prof and the professor does not hold a dialog unless it is of the Socratic type.
Maybe it’s just that I’m a long way from being an impressionable teenager but I’ll be damned before I deal with any more of that patronizing bullshit. What Angus has done with his content note and being willing to back it up by working with students is model a kind of education where the professor works in partnership with the students, offering them the basic respect of believing they know exactly what their capabilities are and that they *want* to be there, and to learn, but may need a hand. The profs I see on the other side are the kind that drove me (and others with disabilities) out of academia. They act like we’re faking disability to work the system, and forcing their own odious ideas of mental illness being something you can bootstrap your way out of onto students.
I honestly hope to God none of em ever end up in the same place I am, because I’ve seen it destroy people who do. And I hope they get the fuck over themselves.
(Reposted with Andrea’s permission.)