Concern over how University College Dublin (UCD) will be able to safely bring students back onto campus is growing among the student population, particularly amongst students with disabilities or serious illnesses. When updating students about how teaching will commence on campus during the summer semester, the only reference to these students is that the university is exploring options to protect vulnerable students.
The fact that UCD has not come up with a firm plan as of yet to aid students with disabilities and pre-existing illnesses has angered many, including one second year English student, Courtney Graves, who has spoken out against what she calls an “ableist” institution.
“I had a couple professors who just kind of refused to accommodate me. They said that it was just it was just inconvenient [sic],” Graves said about how she was treated before Covid-19 struck. “And the University really didn’t do anything. They were like I mean ‘if your professor doesn’t want to do it, then there’s nothing we can do’.”
Graves has Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), fibromyalgia, severe ADHD, and has difficulty hearing, meaning that she is also unable to hear and understand recorded voices properly. She mentioned that, even when there was no pandemic, most of her lecturers were not understanding of her condition and did not allow for her accommodations.
“I had a couple professors who just kind of refused to accommodate me. They said that it was just it was just inconvenient,” she said. “The University really didn’t do anything. They were like, ‘if your professor doesn’t want to do it, then there’s nothing we can do’.”
One of the more serious effects of Graves’ condition is that, if she does not get sufficient sleep every night, she is at high risk of passing out. This has happened a number of times during her time at UCD, as she was forced to attend mandatory early morning classes, meaning that she had to leave her accommodation in Co. Meath at 4:30am. She approached her lecturer and offered to make other arrangements so that she did not have to attend those classes. “I couldn’t, it literally was not safe for me to go to class,” said Graves. “And [my professor] was like ‘well maybe you should have thought of that before you registered to this programme’.”
“If the University decides that my accommodation is unreasonable, I can’t get an education. So, while it might not seem reasonable for a professor to record a lecture and caption it for me, I cannot learn, I cannot get the education that I paid for,” she said.
As an international student, Graves’ fees are much more expensive than her Irish peers, over and above the cost of finding accommodation.
“Then Covid-19 happens, I had to fly back to America because my mother is immunocompromised, and I wanted to be with my family,” said Graves. “I was also informed by the US embassy that it would not be safe for me to stay if because if I were to get sick it would be very difficult for me to get treatment, especially as someone on a student visa. My professors were very unaccommodating, every time that I asked for assistance, they would just tell me that everyone else is struggling too.”
She said that, when Ireland went into lockdown and UCD was forced to go online, “a lot of lecturers were not posting things on Brightspace; they were not posting lectures, they were not posting notes they only recorded their voices without captions and put it on Brightspace. I can’t hear recorded voices at all so I could not get any of the lectures and when I emailed my professor asking for assistance, he said that I should get a friend to write it down for me.”
Despite the challenges that she has faced, Graves has enjoyed her time at UCD, saying that it is better than the other universities she has attended. “I actually quite enjoyed my time at UCD as well, I mean besides the ableism and everything, it’s actually a very good school,” she said. “I felt like I’ve gotten a lot out of it and I don’t want to have to leave for my health and safety and for financial reasons.”
Like many other students, Graves is concerned that the university is not prepared for the reopening of campus and the arrival of students. “Especially that they’re reopening the school and they haven’t made any mention of what they’re going to do for immunocompromised and disabled students,” she said. “I don’t want to speculate but I’m pretty certain the mentality is that there’s not enough disabled students for us to care about disabled students.”
She believes that if the university is better prepared, online learning would be a better alternative to on-campus classes. “I understand the online learning sucks, I’m definitely in the boat of online learning was awful. But the reason why it sucks so bad is because the University was not prepared. They did not plan this out accordingly.”
“My plan is to come back because I mean I don’t know what else I’m going to do, like especially if they’re mandating the students at least come to class part of the time, which is not safe for me but I can’t risk not getting the education,” said Graves. “I guess like my concern with coming back is, you know besides the obvious, hello I don’t want to get Covid, but is that I feel like the University is just not prepared,” she said.
Stephen Kisbey-Green – Co-Editor