Williams has failed me: A consistent pattern of neglect & disregard

Abby Fournier

Williams can’t even manage to follow the law, much less create an inclusive environment for students with disabilities. 

I have pointed this out to the administration time and time again, and last week a handful of  “people-in-charge” agreed to – at least pretend to – listen to me. Since reaching out to them, there have been a few improvements at the testing site making it slightly more compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): they designated more disabled parking spaces, sent out an email (albeit a vague one) about the accessible route, and slightly widened the accessible path, although not enough to fit a wheelchair. Yet still, people using the accessible route are expected to double back through the east entrance, which the testing site supervisors admitted was a violation of social distancing guidelines. To me and several allies present in the meeting, this translated as, “disabled bodies are disposable.”

Let me reiterate – these are not just my “opinions,” but legal ADA requirements for the institution to follow. I no longer trust the administration, so I demanded to be present for the meetings that were supposed to address my concerns. It was extremely apparent that the “professionals” present in these meetings had a lot to learn about the rights of people with disabilities.

To President Mandel, the Williams administration, and everyone at this school who perpetuates ableism and inaccessibility, this is my message to you. There are many students, faculty, and staff with disabilities on campus, and it is time that you give the disabled community the time and respect we deserve. 

When I chose to come to Williams, I was promised a supportive, caring environment where the administration, faculty, and staff listened to students and were there to help students get the most out of the Williams experience. However, I am continuously reminded how Williams is not here to help all students. 

It is not my responsibility to tell you the ways in which you are failing the students. I should be studying for my classes that I need to pass in order to graduate this spring. I should be enjoying my last semester on campus and planning my future. Your actions have stolen that from me.

I met with several Williams staff members last Wednesday to explain every illegal aspect of the COVID-19 on-campus testing site. It was quite clear to all of us in the meeting that I had more knowledge of the ADA regulations than the rest of them combined. They told me they were proud of me for knowing my rights. They thanked me for speaking up and bringing this to their attention.

What I said to them was, “You tell me you’ve seen students using crutches at the testing site, so I know you are capable of observing your surroundings.” The nose blowing station and drive through card swipe are in clearly marked disabled parking spaces. Why did a student need to point out this blatant violation of ADA regulations? Time and time again they, specifically a member of your senior staff, said that this was the first time they were made aware of the violations. If the staff get so little training that they do not know that blocking a disabled parking space is illegal, something is fundamentally wrong with your institution.

I am not asking for the testing site to be changed so that I can be more comfortable. This is a legal requirement that should have been addressed from the beginning. The fact that I have to argue for my legal rights is unacceptable. You should be embarrassed by the institution’s ableist and illegal actions.

I can give you a list of all of the other extremely problematic instances that prove that there is a consistent pattern of neglect and disregard for accessibility at Williams. But I should not have to prove this to you. If you claim to support the students, believe me when I tell you, you have failed us.

President Mandel, your holiday message to students showed an image of the Hopkins Gate, which is infamously engraved with the phrase “Climb high, climb far.” Just a week earlier, I had written an op-ed for the Record describing just how harmful, violent, and oppressive the phrase and image are. If you are representing Williams with ableist imagery and language, what message are you trying to send to your students with disabilities? What will it take for you to include us in your plans and communications? I am aware that you specifically are not a part of every decision that happens at Williams. And, as the President of the College, you have the most significant platform to address these issues, as well as the responsibility to do so. When you came to Williams, you promised us that you would listen. You promised us that you would strive to make Williams a safe and welcoming environment for all students. The Williams you currently lead has actively disabled me and many of my peers.

I will forever be traumatized by my time at Williams, and I will not allow the College to continue to traumatize disabled students. There must be accountability, there must be admittance of fault, and there must be immediate change. I am graduating, but this movement is not going away. I am asking you all to make a commitment to dismantle the ableist systems of oppression on the Williams College campus. In a documented format, and with a plan for accountability.

Abby Fournier ’21 is a political science major from Natick, Mass.