steps on steps on steps

Good thing no one took him to Ferris.

One staffer’s prospie loves Bwog so much that he even decided to come to one of our meetings. We liked him, and thought we’d ask if he wanted to write an article about his experiences at Perspectives on Diversity and Days on Campus. So, continuing this year’s trend of posting about the pre-frosh, Evan Morris, CC ’18, gives you this look at the accessibility issues at Columbia’s weekend for admitted students.

To everyone who tried to make Columbia accessible this weekend: Thank you. You tried, but crutches and this campus just don’t mix well.

I arrived as stupidly eager as everyone else. I thought I was well prepared. Armed with my access map, permission to use the elevator to upper campus, and my experiences getting around with a cane during Columbia’s summer program for high school students, I figured I would be fine. The weekend was only so long and I had access to a wheelchair just in case.

I had no idea how many little problems would add up to make this weekend exhausting and painful. At every turn, there was something that I had to sit out or work around because of my disability. My first night (that is, the same day as Bacchanal) was annoying but manageable, though I got my fair share of sad looks as I stumbled up the steep bus steps on the way to our quasi-mandatory boat tour. The three stories of stairs up to the boat proper, though, were the worst. I assumed that because the average Columbia student might not be on a boat on a typical Saturday night, the organizers wouldn’t be terribly familiar with the accessibility of the venue.

Once I was back on campus, though, the weekend didn’t improve as much as I had hoped. The next morning, I circled Low for twenty minutes, trying to be noticed by those eating inside so I could get in to the alumni brunch. Though the disability services card provided by the University and various elevators got me part of the way there, the last flight of stairs up to the door made it challenging to attend the three events planned there. It’s always those last few steps.

Additionally, given that I have serious joint problems, sleeping on the floor is not ideal. I called ahead and Admissions provided a brand new cot for my host to pick up. It was a glorified beach chair, which gave him and his suitemates a good laugh. It would have been more convenient for me to sleep on the suite couch (one of the few, my host told me, couches that had fabric and not wood arm rests), but that is apparently prohibited and I even had trouble falling asleep on my host’s twin XL bed.

That being said, I couldn’t have asked for a better host. Our conversations had a big influence on my plans for my upcoming years at Columbia and I learned about a number of opportunities on and off campus because of our shared interests. But he lives in Hartley, where my crutches and I can’t fit into a bathroom stall together.

Obviously, most of my difficulties were little things that couldn’t be helped—I don’t expect a campus that’s so clearly stretched for space to suddenly flatten itself out. Admissions officers and my future classmates (I was admitted early decision) were wonderful, doing what they could to provide a normal experience for me when possible. There were always people around to carry the food I couldn’t hold and clear the way to an open seat in John Jay. Everyone was kind and accommodating, but clearly the program wasn’t set up with people like me in mind.

There will always be those last few steps and I know that I’ll have the next four years to memorize what routes I can and can’t take with crutches or my wheelchair. For now, they still seem to come at me wherever I turn—and I’m sure it would be the same for anyone else who doesn’t have to worry about this every day. But the fact remains that I do have to worry about this, and this weekend would have gone so much more smoothly if someone could have told me which events would be difficult to access.

I’m still coming to Columbia, though, and I know that I want to live in New York, despite all that is inaccessible here. I’m grateful for the offices on campus that have already helped me with housing and campus accommodations for the next year. Columbia is always going to be more than its seemingly endless staircases, and the University can be of more help when I’m not just crashing in someone else’s room in Hartley.

But this event was not for me, something I wish I’d known before bumbling through the weekend.