In the Georgetown University Student Association senate Sunday night, we unanimously passed a resolution calling for Georgetown University to revisit accessibility policies in relation to campus events that occur outside of the classroom.

In fact, the university website states, “Inspired by the Jesuit value of educating the whole person, Georgetown offers dynamic student programs that foster leadership development, complement the classroom experience and build community.” Georgetown clearly recognizes the impact of the supplemental activities that occur throughout the undergraduate experience and cites student programming as a core piece of the community that contributes to this personal growth.

Yet, when students with diverse circumstances that require certain accommodations (wheelchair-accessible ramps, sign language interpreters or additional sound equipment just to name a few) approach the university for funding so that they can attend speakers, club events or even courses preparing students for graduate school entry exams, they have often been turned away.

These events are oftentimes not equipped to handle such diverse needs as hearing or sight impairments, physical restrictions that limit access or language deficiencies. With a limited budget, the university has explained that it reserves its limited resources for strictly academic needs. Understandably, classroom education must come first at an academic institution, but the ongoing conversation surrounding the Designing the Future(s) of the University Initiative has discussed how Georgetown alumni repeatedly acknowledge that, while they were undergraduates, their most formative experiences occurred outside the classroom.

The university knows that a significant part of the formation process that we undergo throughout our four years here occurs outside the traditional classroom experience. It is core to the Georgetown identity, and the incorporation of co-curriculars and experiential learning appears to be central to the discussion of the models of the future of Georgetown. There is no reason that Georgetown should continue to suggest that it is only responsible for catering to the needs of some students academically, when it is simultaneously admitting that the learning experience in general needs to cater to a more wholesome approach.

Beyond just our university’s strong principles, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 specifically holds the university accountable for providing equal access to students, regardless of individual circumstances. The legislation states, “The Congress finds that physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society, yet many people with physical or mental disabilities have been precluded from doing so because of discrimination.”

In 1990, Congress established by law that denying an individual full participation in society because of a particular physical or mental condition is a form of discrimination; yet nearly 24 years later, one of the world’s leading academic institutions fails to provide equal access to its entire, extraordinarily talented student body. How can we continue to justify this?

Oftentimes the reasoning behind the lack of access seems to come down to lack of financial resources. Budgets are tight, so it is unclear who would be responsible for forfeiting some funding for these costs, which are often expensive but are, of course, truly necessary.

For one, the money should certainly not come from the Student Activities Fee. Unlike other student programming and event expenses, these costs are not a result of student leaders’ desire to increase the level of programming. These costs are necessary to make the programming accessible. Providing interpreters in classrooms is like providing lights in classrooms. It’s a basic operational cost that students should not be responsible for funding.

Second, it is not the responsibility of the students to reconfigure the university funding model or the provost’s budget to determine where this money should come from. It is imperative, however, that the university commits to the students that it is responsible for these incremental costs as part of our infrastructure and that it will find a way to fund them.

Georgetown University defines cura personalis as, “individualized attention to the needs of each student; distinct respect for his or her unique circumstance and concerns, appropriate appreciation for his or her particular gifts and insights.” If we are going to be loyal to our mission statement and hold true to our core identity, we must start recognizing each student’s diverse circumstances and begin to truly facilitate an environment in which every student can thrive. The Georgetown experience must be accessible for each and every member of this community, and it’s time we make this belief a reality.

ABBEY MCNAUGHTON is a sophomore in the College. She is an at-large member of the GUSA senate.

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