It’s important that we continuously question the institutions that we are a part of, and work towards better advancements in these places.
JMU prides themselves on diversity, inclusion, and community. But, are these claims that they pride themselves on really true? James Madison University has a lot to work on as an institution in general, and that was especially made clear with how they handled the coronavirus pandemic at the start of this 2020 fall semester.
The lack of accommodations on campus for people with physical disabilities is astonishing to me. I have noticed a lack of accommodations in a large array of the dorms on campus. All of the dorms in the village have no elevators or ramps. The dorms on east campus only have elevators in the front of the buildings, even though many people live in the back. I am curious if JMU limits those with physical disabilities to a select few dorms on campus. I am assuming this is true, as they cannot place them in a dorm with no handicap access. This is completely unfair because it limits students from living in or accessing certain buildings. Say someone has a friend that lives in the village and they want to go to their dorm to hangout. How are they supposed to go up to their correct floor? Every single building on campus needs handicap access, so that every person has the same opportunities. If JMU prides themselves so hard on being inclusive of all people, why are they lacking this type of accommodation?
I always think back to my sophomore year when I had a class in Miller Hall. The class took place in a crammed lecture hall with auditorium style chairs and built in desks. I have to admit even I would get nervous when I was running late to that class because it was difficult to get to the open seats. A fellow student in my class was in a wheelchair, and everyday he would have to sit in the back of the lecture hall and take notes on his lap because he could not use the desk. I have always wondered why JMU continued to use that kind of seating and why they haven’t switched to something that accommodates all students’ needs?
It is important that we not only address the lack of accommodations for physical disabilities, but also those with other disabilities that maybe we don’t see. I know there are a lot of students with learning disabilities and some accommodations can be made using the Office of Disability Services (ODS). However, I feel like there is a lot of effort needed to even get the resources or accommodations you need. First, there is an application process, where you fill out information about your disability and the diagnosis. Then you go on to request certain accommodations, whether that be exam time extension, recording lectures, etc. JMU then has to review the application which can take around 15 days, and then there is an initial meeting. If someone requests this accommodation partially through the semester, and then ODS has to review it for over two weeks, this student may be struggling in the classroom in the meantime. What about students with visual, hearing, or speech impairments? What about students with service dogs? How are they accommodated so that they have the same potential that every other student has?
Going off of that point, JMU has proven time after time that they lack the resources to accommodate their students with mental health issues. Students seeking therapy get at most 8 sessions with a clinician, and then are referred to a local Harrisonburg therapist. This can cause multiple problems for the student. First, it is hard enough to connect with one therapist, and once you feel like you have made progress you are told to go seek further treatment with someone else. Coming from someone who goes to the JMU counseling center, the thought that I might need to confide in someone else has been hindering my progress. Some students also do not have proper health insurance, which means that the JMU counseling center is their only source of therapy. The counseling center does have some exceptions for continuous treatment, but that still does not accommodate all of the students who may be struggling mentally.
Online school has aided in the increase of anxiety students may feel throughout the school year. JMU has recently removed fall break (and spring break) which was a way for students to destress from a rather hectic school year. Without that break students lost their outlet to work on themselves, and their mental health. And professors haven’t been a big help either. Although I do have multiple professors who take mental health into account, I have had negative experiences with quite a few JMU professors who neglected their students’ mental health. Every single class syllabus has accommodations for inclement weather and physical illnesses, but why can’t JMU require mental health accommodations on a course syllabus? When feeling extremely anxious or depressed, it is hard enough to get out of bed each day, and the added pressure of attending class makes it even harder. When going through depressive episodes or long lasting panic attacks, students should not have to worry about making it to class. The thought of getting points off of your average grade or missing a quiz only makes mental health issues worse. JMU needs to start implementing policies that make emails saying “I cannot make it to class today, I have been struggling with my mental health.” as effective as “I cannot make it to class today, I have a fever.”
JMU needs to take a deeper look into the resources they have for every single one of their students. Hopefully this blog post sheds some light on the issues they still need to fix, and where they can make more progress. It is up to us, as the JMU community, to make critiques on the university to make sure that it is giving every student the same equal opportunity to succeed.
To read more about disability awareness on JMU campus from a previous blog post, click here.