I am now entering my fourth year here at Grinnell, and looking back through my years here, I can honestly say that I could not have made a better choice of a college to attend. Grinnell has been the right fit for me and has been everything I was looking for in a college. Moreover, it has been everything—and more— that I believed it was going to be when I first visited.
I’ve had so many good experiences while at Grinnell that it is tough to decide where to begin, but I think the student body is a good place. In all of my life, I have never been around a group of people that are so consciously aware of their surroundings and the people around them. I remember in high school, I would be literally right behind another student, and when we came to a door, they rarely ever held the door for me—just walked inside, oblivious to everything around them except for his own world. But when I came to Grinnell, this wasn’t the case. I remember being some 10 to 15 feet behind this girl as I went to my residence hall. She never looked back at me, but when she got to the door, she paused for a few seconds, swiped her P-card, hit the handicapped button for the door, and walked inside. She never said anything or asked if I needed the door opened, she just did it. I’ve had this happen so many times while I’ve been at this College that I’ve lost track of how many times it’s happened, because quite honestly, it happens daily. I’ve even had people hold doors for me when I could have easily pushed the handicapped button myself.
In some classrooms, there are chairs that are attached to little desktops, also known as tablet chairs. Because I cannot sit in the chair, I flip the desk around so that the seat is in front of me, so I can pull my chair up to the desk. I cannot flip the chair myself, so I often ask my fellow students around me to help me (The College recently added accessible seating in these rooms, so this is no longer an issue). In many of my classes, after a week or two, I would come into class, and my chair would already be flipped around. I think that’s the key difference between the Grinnell student community and others. Many times I don’t have to ask people to help me—they just do it without being asked. There is such an aura of kindness and solidarity within the student body.
This attitude of acceptance transfers over to the social life of the school. Each week, there are a multitude of student events on campus, such as sporting events, speakers, symposiums, theme parties, and many others. At all of these events, I have had students, many whom I may have not known beforehand, offer to help me in various ways. At symposiums, I’ve had students offer to get me a drink or food that is available at these events. I’ve had students offer to move chairs or rearrange seating entirely so I could be closer to everyone else rather than off in a corner. At a music concert one year, I found myself stuck in the middle of the crowd, unable to see the concert at all. Two students, who were standing in front of me, turned around and noticed I was unable to see the show. To fix this, they literally parted the crowd and pushed me to the front, right next to the stage, and had everyone stand around and behind me. During the summer months here in Grinnell, many people have hosted house parties, all in off-campus houses that are inaccessible. I went to one of these house parties to meet up with some friends, knowing very well that I would not be able to get into the house. However, I was actually proven wrong. Soon, two students, whom I did not know beforehand, walked up to me and said they wanted to get me into the house. I knew that this was a rather impossible idea, mainly because my power chair is a good 400 pounds of central weight. Many of my friends have tried to lift it up in the past to no avail. However, these guys were committed. These guys found six other people, and all eight together, lifted my chair up a flight of steps and into the house. I was absolutely speechless. I have, in all my life, never been around a student body that cares so much about everyone’s well-being.
This attention to detail and overall compassionate nature exists not only within the student community, but within the professor community as well. At Grinnell, I’ve never had a professor discriminate against me because of my disability. I’ve had professors request to move the class because the classroom wasn’t easy for me to get around in. I’ve had professors make sure that study sessions and out-of-class assignments, such as class movie nights, are in accessible locations. I’ve had professors hold classroom doors open for me or rearrange classroom desk. Every professor I’ve had has more or less bent over his or her back in order to help me.
One of the most impressive aspects of Grinnell has been the administration’s response to accessibility concerns. From 2005 on, Grinnell took a hard stand on campus accessibility, realizing that in many places, the campus was completely inaccessible. When I came in the fall of 2008, I was the first wheelchair user on campus since the early 1990s. Before I arrived, the College went through a flurry of changes in order to prep for my arrival. Steps around my residence hall and in the loggias were converted to ramps. Inaccessible academic buildings, such as Steiner Hall, were made accessible with new handicapped doors. From the very beginning, I could tell Grinnell was going to be everything I wanted it to be: a college that recognized its accessible concerns and sought to change.
Grinnell has become more and more accessible each year. Moreover, the campus community—administration, faculty, and students alike—has become increasingly receptive to accessibility concerns. Numerous handicapped doors have been added to academic buildings, thus making every academic building accessible. Mears Cottage, which houses primarily English and history professors, was completely renovated with a new ramp entrance, making it more accessible than it’s ever been. Ramps have continued to be added and sidewalks have been smoothed out or changed to make travel easier. Grinnell is also looking to the future, completely redoing the Commencement stage, constructing a new, fully accessible permanent outdoor stage. The new stage will also provide other new benefits, such as room for new media outlets. Moreover, the student body as a whole has become increasingly receptive to accessibility concerns. All-campus events funded by the student government are now required to be held in an accessible location. Student groups have reconsidered where they regularly meet, changing meeting locations to lounges that are accessible. Campus-wide events have been adjusted, paying more attention to seating, visual aids, and microphone volume, making it easier for the hearing-impaired. The College has gone through a whirlwind of changes in the past three years, and it continues to make more and more changes and adjustments.
Jennifer Krohn, senior research associate and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) coordinator, has been the catalyst who has helped bring about these drastic changes. Under her guidance, there have been so many changes in my time here that the campus isn’t even recognizable, accessibility-wise. Her leadership, heading both the administration’s accessibility committee and the faculty/student disability awareness committee, has spurred debate and conversation over what the College has already accomplished and what it needs to accomplish in the coming years. She has been pivotal in helping me during my time here to enjoy the full college experience, just like everyone else. Rick Whitney, Associate Director of Facilities Management, has also been instrumental in making the campus more accessible. He has been committed to finding both cost-effective and smart avenues for creating accessibility in previously inaccessible areas, and in making sure that new additions comply with accessibility requirements. Jennifer Krohn, Rick Whitney, and the College in general have far exceeded the expectations I had when I first arrived. I do not know of another college in the country that can boast such a profound sense of community, reaction, and attention to detail about accessibility concerns. Grinnell College is one of a kind and I cannot begin to say how grateful I am for my time here and how difficult it will be to leave this place in the next year.