By Ani Freedman ’22
The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) is known for the various ways it aims to offer students academic support and accommodations to ensure their success at HWS. The Herald spoke with CTL Director, Susan Pliner, as well as several students to get a better understanding of how applying for accommodations works.
The process for applying for academic accommodations involves the coordinator of Disability Services, Christen Davis, who “reviews documentation materials to determine eligibility, evaluates requested accommodations, and negotiates with students based on their individualized accommodation plans for each semester,” according to the CTL website.
The evaluation for housing and meal plan accommodations, however, involves a committee reviewing each student’s application to understand what would best suit their respective situation. Susan Pliner emphasized the complexity and nuances of the process, focusing on the subjectivity of student submissions.
“Each individual is treated as an individual as opposed to a policy. Everybody’s disability is different and manifests differently,” Pliner said. “We have to use the criteria that exists both in the field and legally with disability codes,” such that they apply to the specific context of HWS
In order to get an idea of what this process looks like for students, the Herald spoke to four separate students who have applied for three different types of accommodations with the CTL. One of those students, Anita Baume ‘21, discussed her experience in requesting academic accommodations this past winter break.
“I first sent an email to the CTL January 2021, because I was taking a hard J-Term math course and I needed extra time on exams,” Baume said. “I did end up receiving accommodations, but there were complications with my documentation, and they didn’t end up giving me all of the accommodations I know I would’ve gotten in high school. It was weird because Christen Davis said I didn’t qualify to receive the Power Points or notes ahead of time.” When asked if there was a specific reason why she was denied this, Baume asserted that Davis told her it was not “in her testing proof.”
Pliner explained that what students received in high school may not align with what HWS can accommodate for. The CTL is bound by certain legal limitations regarding the requirements that students must meet in their requests.
Pliner said, “In terms of academic accommodations, if a student is requesting academic accommodations and doesn’t get it, it means that their documentation is such that they do not have a disabling condition.” She explained that accommodations must also be “reasonable within our context.” Although each student’s situation is quite different, their documentation must reflect an accommodation deemed “fair and reasonable” according to the CTL’s guidelines.
Baume’s accommodations did not align exactly with what she had anticipated. “I haven’t met with her [Davis] at all since then,” Baume said. She claimed that after this initial meeting, Baume felt as though the “door was closed.” When asked whether she felt supported after this, Baume answered, “Yes and no. It did kind of throw me off when they kind of slammed the door in my face a little bit, and they were like, ‘This is all you get because this is all that is really showing up.’”
Another student, Dana Kornfeld ‘21, said: “I was severely concussed right before classes started fall of 2018.” She then went to the CTL, which “emailed all of my professors for me letting them know what had happened, since I wasn’t allowed to be on a computer.” Kornfeld reported receiving helpful support from the CTL, and she was able to acquire notes for all of her classes “for the rest of the semester.” This accommodation, according to Kornfeld, ensured that she did not fall behind in her classes, given her physical injury.
Students do request accommodations beyond the academic setting, however. An anonymous source revealed to the Herald what their process for requesting a housing accommodation was like. “I sent them all my required documentation and asked if they could confirm that I had everything that was necessary for them to decide on my accommodations, and they responded that they did have everything.”
Despite this initial interaction, this student claimed, “the next month I was informed that I did not have everything, and actually I did not have a reason for any accommodations.” They continued, “I didn’t have the proper documentation filled out, and they didn’t tell me that.”
Pliner noted that an accommodation request “must be disability-related.” This student, however, expressed feeling neglect after this interaction with the CTL. “They said a disability was not listed,” this student said. When asked about how this experience impacted them, they said: “It just made me realize that they’re too strained already by the amount of students that they have to talk to. There’s just not really enough space for mental health accommodations.”
A third type of accommodation that students may request pertains to meal plans, which are also reviewed by a committee. Henry Duerr ‘21 has experience navigating a possible meal plan accommodation. “Freshman year, after working in the kitchens of Sodexo, it became increasingly clear to me that I did not want to eat that food and I did not want that food to be my only option,” he said. As he worked with the CTL to try to get off of this meal plan, Duerr classified the process as “very thorough.”
“I went to the CTL looking for a dispensation to get off the meal plan,” Duerr revealed. He was placed on a reduced meal plan, until the circumstances worsened. “It was only when I came down with essentially a disease in my stomach, that they fully signed off on me not having to have a meal plan.” Eventually, Duerr said he was able to be placed in a residential space where he had access to a kitchen in order to accommodate for this issue.
Addressing this type of accommodation, Pliner said, is “completely individual.” Although she stated the process is “exactly the same” for reviewing both dining and housing accommodations, she went on to say, “We have a food service provider who will sit with students to create individual meal plans and meet individual needs.” Pliner did say when students request this type of accommodation, they will often “go past that altogether” in favor of requesting to be removed from any meal plan. “If we feel it is some type of disability that we feel we cannot accommodate, then we will opt for no meal plan.”
“From our perspective, we are reviewing the documentation within all of the criteria; our legal responsibilities, our campus community—that is the structure in which we operate,” Pliner said.
Regarding housing and dining, Pliner emphasized that “housing and meal plans are some of the hardest accommodations we do” because of how infrequently students are able to have their exact requests met.
The CTL is caught between trying to help students as much as possible and the limitations that the size of their office presents, with only one Coordinator of Disability Services and a large volume of requests coming in each semester. The students, on the other hand, have demonstrated their own concerns and experiences working with the CTL. Given the nuances of each student’s situation, both Pliner and the students who spoke to the Herald have shown that the process for accommodation requests is more complex than it may seem.
Featured image by Ani Freedman.