Office of Student Affairs Forms Task Force on Accessibility
Issue   |   Wed, 09/23/2015 - 03:08

This semester Amherst administrators plan to examine problems with student access to campus resources by forming a new task force on accessibility. Led by Chief Student Affairs Officer Suzanne Coffey, the committee will finalize its membership within the next few weeks with the assistance of President Biddy Martin, and it will begin work in mid-October.

Coffey said the task force plans to examine all aspects of accessibility.

“Having an Amherst education be completely accessible to all students can mean a range of things depending on the student, where he or she is in terms of anything from learning style to mobility to access to classroom material,” Coffey said. “What we’re really talking about is, at every level, is everything at Amherst, especially education, accessible?”

The task force will be comprised of approximately 15 students, faculty and staff. Coffey plans to use feedback from the Amherst community to guide the committee’s work.

“We want to really gather input from the experience of students, faculty, and staff, particularly students, and be in a place where it’s a community conversation,” Coffey said. “It’s often too easy to sit in a small group and write policy without doing all the groundwork that needs to be done. So we’re going to do this in a very transparent way.”

Coffey said that the impetus for creating the task force came from a variety of sources, including student interest. Last spring, senior Nora Gayer published an opinion piece in The Student criticizing, among other things, the college’s policy of prohibiting students from withdrawing late in the semester or taking less than three courses per semester. She also claimed that low-income students faced greater difficulty in receiving academic accommodations.

Yeva Berkovich ’18, senior chair of the First Generation Association, said she would like to see greater accessibility for first-generation college students at Amherst.

“We recognize that Amherst has succeeded in recruiting students like us, but hasn’t necessarily given us the resources and support that we need to succeed at this school,” Berkovich said.

She also said that many students have trouble interpreting their financial aid packages.

“There are mandatory meetings that you have to have with financial aid, but people often leave those meetings more confused than when it started,” Berkovich said.

Additionally, Berkovich said she would like to see increased communication between the First Generation Association and the college administration.

“I am happy that they are trying to address the issue, but I am going to stay, for lack of a better word, vigilant,” Berkovich said.

Flora Chan, associate director of student life for diversity and community and adviser to the Transfer Student Association and First Generation Association, said she tries to develop inclusive residential life and student activity programming. Chan said that while there has historically been a divide in communication between administration and students, she hopes this is changing.

“I think this new student life team and the way it functions can be in some ways a bridge to having additional student voice,” Chan said. “ I feel like Corry [Colonna], who is the associate director for residential life, Paul [Gallegos], who is the interim associate director of student life for Student Activities, and myself, we see a lot of students and we talk to a lot of students. I think we’re shifting toward increased communication and transparency and accessibility.”

Coffey said the committee will select students for the task force, and hopes that its work will be influenced by not only the members of the task force but also the entire Amherst community.

“This really impacts everyone, no matter how you think of your role or realm at this college, and so we’re very hopeful that people will feel as though they’ve seen, touched, felt and been involved with every piece of this at the level that is appropriate for them,” she said.