At such a diverse place as Cal Poly Pomona, community is found in many areas.
This holds true for the array of cultural centers on campus, which include a PRIDE Center for LGBQT folks and allies, an African-American center, and the Women’s Resource Center, to name a few.
It’s through these centers that students from all walks of life find friends, develop leadership skills, celebrate diversity, empower each other and, most importantly, foster community and belonging that is necessary for student success.
However, while many students find themselves represented through a center on campus, one group of students is not fully represented: students with disabilities.
There is no Disabilities Cultural Center.
There is no space for those students to belong and develop their own meaning of community and empowerment.
Now I know what you are thinking: we have a Disabilities Resource Center, the DRC! That must be the same thing, right? Wrong.
While the DRC is an amazing place that helps bring equal access (or equivalent access) to over 815 students on campus each year, this is not a cultural center. The DRC helps students with test taking, grants mobility access, provides interpreters and live captioning, and works with students individually for academic planning.
But this is not a cultural center.
The DRC is not a place for these 815 students to hang out, empower each other, develop leadership skills, plan events, train allies, or break stigmas about disabilities.
The DRC is surely supportive of these things and wants the best of for the students who utilize the resources.
Still, the DRC has to focus on what will make students successful academically and does not have the funds, time, resources, or physical space to facilitate the things a cultural center could do.
Thus, this is not a slam at the DRC. No, the DRC is truly a great place. Instead, this is me bringing awareness to something that CPP lacks that would help enhance community for students with disabilities.
Syracuse University in New York has a successful Disabilities Cultural Center, their DCC as they call it.
It’s the first of its kind not only at the school, but in all the country.
The students who utilize the DCC appreciate having a place where they not only belong but can develop and share community with the rest of campus.
They are given a voice and are empowered to make the center their own.
This is what I envision for CPP as well.
I want students with disabilities on our campus to have the choice to create a center that means something to them.
Each center on campus has unique ideas of what community means to them and they share and celebrate that community in diverse ways.
For example, the PRIDE Center is big on educating the public about proper orientation and gender identity terminology, ensuring the identities of LGBQT folks are respected and affirmed.
The Women’s Resource Center is passionate about giving women a “brave space” to speak out and have a voice about women’s issues.
Accordingly, the Disabilities Cultural Center I envision would have its own focus and unique definition of what community means to them.
It could be developed by some of those 815 students who utilize the DRC, which would connect them personally to the cultural center, fostering a sense of ownership and providing the opportunity for leadership growth.
The new cultural center could be closely tied to the DRC, allowing students to reap the benefits of both and help improve their overall CPP experiences.
Events the DRC helps put on, such as the Ability Ally Training, could also be expanded if there was a Disabilities Cultural Center.
This would help create more understanding about disabilities and break stigma, which will help create a more inclusive climate on campus.
Moreover, the students at the new center could organize their own events as well and work together to inform student body about what they want them to know about living with a disability.
The center would give them a voice on campus and would be something they are truly proud to call their own.
Of course, CPP is a complex organization, so some of the barriers with initiating a Disabilities Cultural Center includes acquiring funds and resources, proper staffing, and finding space to house the center.
Thus, it takes likeminded people showing support and working together to formulate solutions to these challenges.
However, once established, the center would be such a great addition to our richly diverse campus, and would catalyze all the benefits listed above that the DRC students truly need. Thus, the hard work and effort to overcome these challenges would be worth it.
So please, show your support.
The first step in any long term-project is bringing awareness to a need.
Talk to the Office of Student Life and Cultural Centers (OSLCC).
Talk to the DRC. Talk to your professors. Talk to your ASI representatives. Talk to your clubs. Talk to your friends.
Spread the word that CPP lacks a Disabilities Cultural Center, and it is time to give those students the space, community and empowerment they deserve.