Last Friday, I was shocked to find that an interview I had given to a fellow student for a senior class project was used extensively in a News article that they published without my advance awareness or knowledge. Many examples and quotes were presented out of context. Therefore, I write to properly convey my own views in my own words on this important topic; I welcome the focus on increasing awareness of disabilities at Yale, but the conversation on ‘how’ must be thoughtful, constructive and collaborative. Most of all, like other students with disabilities at Yale, I am not a victim. I have many of the same aspirations and anxieties in life as the rest of the first-year class, though a few different ones, too.
There will always be physical challenges for someone in a wheelchair, but if a community is aware and flexible, these challenges can be overcome with creativity and collaboration. That is what I found in high school, and that is what I hoped for and expected in coming to Yale. And that has been the case. While there have been ups and downs—some similar to other students and some different —my bet was ultimately that the warm hearts, culture and community of Yale mattered more than flat architecture. Now, with steady improvement in focus and awareness, I am hopeful that Yale can be a leader in showing the world how to adapt to improve accessibility and inclusivity. The new residential colleges are a game changer for Yale (at least for people in wheelchairs).
It is true that it has been challenging for me to be the only student in a wheelchair. Being a first year doesn’t make it any easier. I have faced challenges with accessibility in classrooms, parties and dorms. There are not many people at Yale who understand my experience, and it has been challenging socially as a result. But this isn’t just about Yale –– institutions around the country need to be having these conversations. It is reflective of our society as a whole that even prestigious institutions like Yale, a place known for being at the forefront of inspiring social change, struggle with disability awareness. These challenges can seem mountainous to a first year trying to navigate an entirely new world just like any other student.
But the challenges I have faced here have not defined my Yale experience. There have been broken elevators and other physical challenges. Those just have to be improved. My most vivid memories so far, however, are as much of HalloWoads, the Yale Bowl, the Harvard-Yale game, frat parties, Pierson Inferno, late nights with friends and sharing tears and laughs with some of the most compassionate people I have ever met.
The Yale community is a good one. Students here support me unwaveringly: they hold doors for me, get books from my backpack, open my Rice Krispie treats from Durfee’s, help me with my math homework, bring me their favorite cold medicine all the way from Old Campus when I have a cold and even appease my Bachelor addiction. When I run into roadblocks, literally and metaphorically, it is the people in this community I turn to for the most heartfelt advice, because when I have to take another path, they have proven that they will be with me every step of the way. The dining hall staff members in all 14 residential colleges greet me when I come in and help me make my plate. Professors meet with me when the elevator breaks and I cannot make it to class, or even to ensure that I feel personally supported despite perhaps having extra challenges. My dean and head of college are two of the most caring and trustworthy people I have ever met. And perhaps most obviously, the Resource Office on Disabilities has made Yale literally possible for me; they clear the snow for me in the winter, physically move desks for me from one building to the next, ensure my classes are accessible and move the ones that aren’t, proctor my seemingly endless chain of exams and allow me to feel limitless at Yale.
For me, the real “segregation” that I feel here is people’s difficulty in realizing that while I am different from the typical Yale student in many ways, I am just the same in perhaps more ways. I just don’t get to hide the ways in which I am different from other students. But I update my G-Cal just as much as anyone else, I can talk about boys in my room for hours on end (drop by my suite Monday for Bachelor Night!) and I’m trying to make friends just like anyone else. But, in my opinion, the biggest thing that all Yalies have in common is that we all want to make a change in the world. To do this, what Yale really needs is more openness and willingness to have conversations, even if they feel uncomfortable. Sometimes, these moments end up being the ones you remember the most, the ones that change your outlook on the world forever.
In the same English class that the News referenced in the previous article about me—that emphasized the worst moments of my first semester—there was also a turning point in how I viewed some of my life experiences. In that class, I had to give a presentation on a very rare clinical trial I was in. I was terrified and extremely hesitant to share this part of my life with people I was not, at the time, very close with. Would I alienate potential friends? Would the students not be able to understand my experience? Would this make me look “weird?” I didn’t know.
As I left class, one of my nine classmates came up to me. He shared that he personally volunteered to work on the same clinical trial, and we had a wonderful conversation about the perspectives from both sides. That one conversation resulted in a friendship. But what that student might still not realize, is that our conversation showed me that seemingly difficult and awkward conversations can often be the most rewarding; they can be used as a point of mutual understanding and support instead of a wall that we want to hide behind.
Although a specific and perhaps odd example, I truly think that moment best exhibits the opportunities within the Yale community; we have to encourage each other to make room for people that may seem different. While it may seem as if our differences are barriers, they are and ought to be bridges. He showed me that these moments are even more powerful when we allow ourselves to use them to connect with and learn about others.
If I was able to find this connection with one of nine students in a single class, how many meaningful connections are possible for each of us among the 5,452 other Yale undergraduates?
Arya Singh is a first year in Pauli Murray College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Editor’s Note: The News apologizes for publishing a WEEKEND article, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”, last week without giving proper notice to one of the story’s main sources, Arya Singh, that the reporter who interviewed her planned on publishing the story in the Yale Daily News. A miscommunication led to the mistake, which we deeply regret.