Today I learned the appalling story of Eliza Schaaf, a 20-year-old woman with Down Syndrome who enrolled in an “Introduction to Ceramics” course at Southern Oregon University as a non-credit student (the university calls this “non-admitted status”) this Fall.
According to her mother, Deb, “Eliza has always been included with her typically developing peers throughout her educational career and through that has developed a very strong work ethic and sense of appropriateness in class. She thrives on watching and learning from others.” But despite every apparent effort by her mother to prepare the university and assist in a smooth transition for Eliza, administrators abruptly asked Eliza to withdraw from the course with just two sessions remaining. Today, the southern Oregon newspaper Mail-Tribune reported that Laura O’Bryan, the University’s dean of students, upheld the decision in a letter to Eliza and her family:
In the letter, O’Bryan stated that Schaaf’s enrollment at SOU was a “novel situation” for the university.
“The non-admitted policy was not designed or intended to provide an avenue for participation to individuals who are not otherwise qualified for admission to SOU,” O’Bryan wrote.
I hereby wish to invoke the power of the Internets to show Southern Oregon University how wrong-headed they are by failing to see the benefits (let alone the moral imperative) of including a person with a disability. Stories abound of students with Down Syndrome, like Eliza, who are now attending college — Katie Apostolides of Massachusetts is one example (she’s been profiled in The New York Times and U.S. News & World Report); former prom king Zach Wincent of Illinois is another. Last year, our own CSU-East Bay announced plans to create a college program for students with autism.
It’s happening, Dean Laura O’Bryan of Southern Oregon University — 35 years after the signing of IDEA, students who have experienced inclusive environments throughout their K-12 educations are now knocking on the doors of colleges like yours. Eventually, they’re going to gain access. Wouldn’t it be better if you figured out a way to welcome them?