UMass Boston has officially moved all classes off-campus. Courses are now all available online and will remain that way for the rest of the spring semester. This is a good show of prioritizing students’ health ... but what does it say about the university’s care of disabled students?
If you know me or recognize my name, then you probably know that I am a disabled student who has written a fair amount on the difficulties that disabled people face. Some of my own difficulties have heavily involved this university. The primary issue is the inability to accommodate online work.
My background includes having a mast cell disease, which makes me have a variety of reactions to the majority of environments. I had two serious anaphylactic episodes (requiring five EpiPens) during my first month attempting classes on campus, and I have taken online courses ever since that first semester. I take seven daily medications up to four times a day, plus monthly injections, amongst other treatment methods. I also wear masks regularly, have a wheelchair and walker for my really bad days, and keep all of my medications on me at all times. Despite this, I still have had reactions practically every time I’ve been on campus the past semester.
In-person classes are not an option for me. Yet, the university staff has told me multiple times that online classes were not an option for them. This has been shown to be false.
I have dropped my original Political Science minor due to none of the classes being available online, or even in a building I could safely remain in. I have dropped out of the Honors College after meetings with the Honors College Dean, where she informed me that they had no options for me if my health were at risk. I’ve had many conversations with advisors about options for the two courses I’ll need for my major that only have in-person options— whether I could be sent audio recordings of lectures, whether I could read and submit assignments in myself, whether I could take them through an online program at another university, etc. All the conversations eventually came down to the same thing: UMass Boston could not make those courses available online for students who needed them to be.
Yet, this is clearly false.
The university was able to quickly move, not just a few classes for a few students, but all classes online in a short time period due to the COVID-19 crisis. In an email sent out by the greater University of Massachusetts system, it’s stated that their “highest priority is the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, and communities.” Does this only apply to those of us who are able-bodied? Why can they switch to online when everyone’s health is at risk, yet it is stated as impossible for students whose lives are at risk on a regular basis?
No one asks to be sick. I know students with mobility issues, autoimmune deficiencies, and various other conditions that make classes a risk for them. We work hard every day to get through what we need to, just as other students do, but with varied needs. UMass Boston is failing at helping us with this task.
The university needs to decide whether they are just for the majority or whether they are for the minority as well. This health crisis has brought many issues to the light. I hope that it might also allow for changes in the coming semesters.