The Disabled Experience at Centre College

by The Student Association for Social Justice and Equity (SASJE)

Disabled students at Centre College struggle to be heard. Rather than reflecting on the college’s systemic prejudices, administration sweeps our stories under the rug, pretends they never happened, and allays complaints with the sweet promise, “We only want to have a dialogue with students.” Yet it is hard to have a dialogue on such uneven ground, where disabled students have been endlessly belittled and disregarded.

We will not be silent any longer. Here are our stories.

M.Q. was a student and wheelchair user at Centre College who was housed in Nevin Hall during her first year in 2021. Nevin Hall is a first-year building in which all amenities, including laundry services, the kitchen, and study rooms are located in the basement; Nevin does not have an elevator. Throughout her first semester, M.Q. could not access the dorm kitchen to cook, nor do her own laundry. Centre staff would do her laundry, but on the (regular) occasion that staff would forget to help, other students would need to help do her laundry. Furthermore, M.Q. regularly struggled with the handicap buttons on the dorm entrance – the only entrance with ramp access – not working. Because of this, she regularly texted friends and hall mates to help let her in the dorm. M.Q. transferred after a single semester at Centre College.

An anonymous disabled student has struggled to maintain their legally protected privacy against administration, which has constantly ignored the concerns of the student body. As defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), in conjunction with the Housing and Urban Development Department and the Department Of Justice, all a student must submit in order to have approved accommodations is a doctor’s note with a brief summary of their disability and needs. Students should never be asked, nor should their treating physicians be asked, such invasive questions which are currently present in the Centre College accommodations forms – such as diagnostic / medical records, medication history, and more. Other university accommodation forms, such as that of UofL, are not nearly so invasive. In fact, many legal, healthcare, and insurance professionals which the student has spoken to are shocked at Centre’s form, and some have refused to even entertain it. Centre’s administration has characterized the form as a need to have an “open dialogue with the doctor to determine the necessity of an accommodation.” However, none of the administration is a licensed or treating practitioner of the student body, and does not have the right, nor are students obliged, to engage in such dialogue. The anonymous student has had, as have many of their disabled peers, experiences of administration attempting to push this policy and second-guess their long-standing diagnoses. With their actions, legally questionable forms, poor performance regarding privacy and security of sensitive information, and callous attitude toward the student body seeking accommodations, Centre has left itself exposed to a potentially devastating lawsuit.

B.S. is a disabled student who also experienced difficulty with the accommodations forms at Centre. During her first years at Centre, she would often notify staff informally about the accommodations she needed, and this mostly worked out in her experience. She had some rough patches on the way, such as being placed on the third floor of her building when she needed a first floor. However, none of this was done through an official form or a website. There was no information in the welcome package about a clear process for receiving accessible housing, nor who the point of contact for each step was. In her opinion, this information needs to be readily accessible and easy to find, which it is not presently. The contacts and forms are buried in the confusing throes of CentreNet.

Another anonymous disabled student also had a distressing experience with the processing of their accommodations forms at Centre. When they went to the office to turn the forms in, nobody was present to receive them, despite the office stating they would be open. A staff member from another department had to take their forms and put them in the correct box. When the student followed up with the office, it was revealed that their forms had been lost. These accommodation forms contain incredibly sensitive, personal information, as previously mentioned. When the student calmly expressed their concern to one of the staff members, the staff member regarded them flippantly, telling them to “calm down.” The staff member then talked down to the student, even raising their own voice. Even today, the accommodations forms have not been found, nor has there been confirmation that the office intends to retrieve the lost sensitive information.

On a broader level, many disabled students have experienced difficulties with housing. Several of these difficulties were outlined in a prior article of the Cento. However, we would like to reiterate a few points as this conversation continues. It is not true that disabled students in previous academic years have had their housing prioritized. Disabled students with housing accommodations used to not receive their housing information until August – and even then, they had to call the offices (or visit in-person on the day of move-in) – as opposed to other students, who received their information months prior.

We would also like to once again emphasize how many students at the beginning of the 2023-2024 academic year were placed in refurbished study rooms in Northside. Non-disabled students have been placed here also, but a large portion of these spaces were originally assigned to disabled students. These study rooms are considerably smaller than the average dorm room and lack windows, and are therefore not fire-safe; if there were a fire, these rooms would be inescapable. To consider these rooms as livable is and was an incredibly disrespectful act to disabled and non-disabled students alike.

The “windows” are looking toward the hallway, not outside.

Even so, the struggles of disabled students do not end with housing. As mentioned, many disabled students have been treated disrespectfully in their endeavors to advocate for themselves. Administration has gaslit students about their own disabilities – such as insinuating students are lying about their own conditions, or claiming they do not exist – and given students trouble about the “veracity” of the documents provided to their offices. We are not taken seriously, nor afforded a space to explain ourselves. The department structures, procedures, and administrative mindsets at Centre must change, to protect students rather than victimize them.

For example, we would like Centre College to consider implementing an office specifically for supporting disabled students. A Disability Resource Center that focuses only on disabled students would quickly solve the issue of accessibility of information. It would also relieve the unequal power dynamics many experience being a minority trying to converse with an authoritative, administrative group. It would also relieve students of the extra effort and time it currently takes to communicate with administration. Students should be able to focus on their studies and social activities, instead of spending a significant amount of their time advocating for themselves and their basic needs. 

We would also like to request accessible sensory rooms for all students. Currently, all sensory rooms are located in dorms without elevators. These rooms are not easily accessible for students with chronic conditions, injuries, or mobility issues. They are also difficult for students living outside of these dorms to access, due to the swipe card system. Relocating these sensory rooms to public buildings such as Roush or Crounse would facilitate much easier access.

We would also like Centre College to have frequent, sincere, and honest communication when issues on campus arise. For example, more recently, students in Breckinridge Hall and Higgins Hall were without A/C in extremely hot weather. Some of these students had health conditions and found it impossible to sleep in their dorms. Doors were left open, some residents slept in the common areas, and others even slept in the academic buildings overnight; this is and was a massive safety issue. As of writing, this was only acknowledged last week, despite the issue compounding over multiple weeks. In addition, Nevin Hall experienced a gas leak, and no students or faculty from the surrounding buildings have received updates about the issue. The lack of communication on these matters, which affect both disabled and non-disabled students, is callous, dangerous, and vastly unprofessional.

We also, of course, demand a reformation of the accommodations forms (ESA, housing, etc.) here at Centre College. They are currently in violation of the ADA, Housing and Urban Development Department, and the Department Of Justice. Other universities and colleges in KY have policies which meet federal requirements, so it is shocking that our college cannot do the same. If the accommodations forms do not meet federal requirements, they could generate legal trouble for the college. However, administration seems to be betting on the fact that students are too exhausted, too vulnerable, or too scared to speak out. This is not the case.

Underscoring all of this is the strong need for proper diversity training of administration. Staff should hold each other accountable when they are out of line; staff should not doubt students, but seek to listen to and support them; staff should not impose their own beliefs and conceptualizations of disabilities onto disabled students. We are tired of defensive excuses, and want to see honest accountability.

We acknowledge that oftentimes there may be honest mistakes, and that students have the ability to reach out to administration to converse and negotiate. However, students on the receiving end of administrative mistakes rarely feel supported. The truth is that Centre administration treats disabled students poorly across departments, making them compelled to transfer, which they often do. The least administration can do is own up to these faults. We hope administration can come to compassionately understand these injustices and advocate for more equitable systems, offices, and mindsets across campus.

This is a reminder to any non-disabled student reading: any of us can become disabled at any moment, whether it’s from being sick, an accident, or a sports injury. The shame, struggle, and endless paperwork on this campus are overwhelming to us who have been disabled since our entry, especially for those who are newly or temporarily disabled. Beyond that, we are all on the same side. We are not privileged – but in fact disprivileged – because we require accommodations to live fulfilling lives. There is no need for division between you and us. Administration’s discrimination and disregard towards us affects the quality of life the institution can offer to all students; the recent housing debacles are great examples. We are all subject to the same careless treatment, and we hope you will stand with us against it. We want equity for all students.

Thank you for reading and hearing our voices.


The Student Association for Social Justice and Equity (SASJE)

2 thoughts on “The Disabled Experience at Centre College

  1. as an alum who developed my disability later in life, and as someone who works and hired, I am shocked that Centre does not have a disability services office for students which is pretty standard and given the legal protections required to ensure the college can meet its obligations, serve students, but not overreach. I hope this Sparks change. In higher ed generally, many campuses do have disability resource offices for students, but staff and faculty are usually without any similar office and subject to harsh HR office scrutiny similar to what you describe in this article. I highly recommend, for anybody who might have the energy, to solicit allies from the staff and faculty. The more of us that band together and raise our voices loudly and publicly for change, hopefully the faster it will happen and true transformation of our higher space will become a reality. Good luck!

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