AwareNow: Issue 7: The Return Edition

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“Honored to share this story that needs to be seen and heard. Thank you, Samantha and Cameron, for helping to raise awareness for the many immunocompromised students who feel unseen and go unheard.” - Allié M. In the beginning of 2020, we had high hopes for our summers. We assumed we’d be spending time hanging out with friends, going on hikes, traveling the world with family, and being able to enjoy the time off from school, stress free. Instead, we have spent the majority of our summer stuck in our parents’ house, advocating for the rights of immunocompromised college students. Having disabilities, we are used to advocating for ourselves, this isn’t a new concept for us. Living with a chronic condition is a full-time job. There are no breaks, no holidays. The problem of accessibility is not beginning now but follows a trend of inaccessibility and discrimination of students with disabilities that is ingrained in our institutions. We as students do not believe it should be solely our responsibility to advocate for ourselves. We need to fight for an overall increase in awareness of the needs of disabled students around the world. To be honest, we’re tired. Tired of watching everyone else living their lives knowing that ours will be put on hold so they can get the summer that they want. Tired of having no one to talk to because we don’t want to be “that person” who is annoying about social distancing still. Tired of fighting for rights that our able-bodied peers have never even considered. Tired of sitting in bed, sitting in the living room, watching shows on Netflix, limiting time outside, just waiting. Through all this, our light at the end of the tunnel was returning to our schools in the fall, but our universities are making us feel like burdens. Almost two months ago, we began to go back and forth with different universities across Virginia, asking them to provide more equitable options for their immunocompromised students. But the responses we got made us feel overwhelmingly unwanted and unsafe. We reached out to the support group for immunocompromised college students that we created where we learned that immunocompromised students from all over the country were dealing with the same challenges we were facing at our own schools. We weren’t alone in our frustration. That’s when we decided to write a letter to all the Virginia public universities and colleges asking them to provide online options for all of their previously scheduled classes, because by not doing so, we believe they are ultimately violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Current college return-to-campus plans are evasive and misleading. Answers vary from person to person depending on the department. Majority of the universities in Virginia aren’t offering online options for all of their previously scheduled fall classes. This means that students whose classes aren’t deemed “online” by the school are expected to drop their classes and sign up for ones the school is making remote or work directly with their professors to see if they’d be willing to accommodate them but it’s ultimately up to the professor's discretion whether or not they accommodate the student. A policy that requires all students to attend their classes of choice in person feels like the university is not prioritizing those who are immunocompromised. Learning that the schools we have come to love—and in which our families have placed our trust and livelihoods—are not prioritizing our needs, and the needs of the other immunocompromised students, hits hard during a time when we are already feeling isolated and left behind. The absence of communication between the schools and their immunocompromised students further makes us feel like the school doesn’t care about our health and safety this fall. There are members of the college’s administration who give off the impression they couldn’t care less; they care more about the wants of the abled students than the needs of the disabled students. While we are already feeling like the rest of the world is leaving us behind, it hurts to feel like our schools are forgetting about us too.