By Jennifer Ward
After discovering that all in-state colleges across New York will receive $2 million to be divided for disability services for the upcoming school year, Purchase’s Disabled Students' Union (DSU) decided to share their opinion.
In a meeting that occurred on Feb. 22, the DSU held an email activism campaign where students from DSU, the Autism Acceptance Club, Polisci Club, representatives from NYPIRG, as well as any students who wanted to attend gathered and sent out emails to legislators, state members, and assembly members in order to spread awareness about the lack of funding for the disabled community on campuses.
Students were given an email template with a list of legislators for them to email. Each student emailed nine legislators and was given an outlet to voice their opinion within the template.
According to the DSU, the New York State Disability Services Council (NYSDSC), established in 2007, gained a $2 million budget for disability services. Before NYSDSC was formed there wasn’t a budget to begin with. In the 15 years of NYSDSC, the budget has not been changed. For the last five years, different New York State colleges have been petitioning for the budget to be raised.
Although $2 million in a disabilities budget may sound great, this is to be split between all SUNY, CUNY, and some private institutions and community colleges in New York. This averages to about $27 per student-- an amount that the DSU argues is not nearly enough.
“Right now it’s two million, we want to make it more like $12 million, maybe even $13 million in the budget because there are a lot of people out there with disabilities, especially people who aren’t even registered in the SUNY system with disabilities so we might not even know if they need accommodations in a sense,” said Sonja Boyko, senior visual arts major as well as treasurer of the DSU. “So there are a lot of people, and there’s not a lot of money to give to each person to accommodate their disabilities. Some of them might be minor stuff like testing accommodations, or major stuff like needing mental assistance. Or even physical assistance like a wheelchair.”
“Disability isn’t a flashy issue; it’s not super fashionable or exciting to some people. But it’s really important. It’s the difference between someone being able to participate or not participating,” said Em, a senior media studies major as well as President of DSU, who preferred to not go by their last name. “Ideally, people wouldn’t be thinking about it in terms of compliance, they’d be thinking about it in terms of inclusion and something equally important.”
On Feb. 8, students from colleges all over New York, including Purchase, rallied in Albany to spread awareness to those in power about the lack of funding for students with disabilities and asking for more money. Many senators joined their support and advocated for them as well.
“Increasing funding for students with disabilities to make sure they have the education they need and deserve is a no-brainer. I am proud to work with these incredible students who are taking the time to fight for equitable and quality education,” said Sen. Andrew Gounardes, who serves on the Senate Committee on Higher Education.
Boyko was in attendance. “It wasn’t a protest, more like an awareness. We’re just trying to gain support and make it more aware to the assembly makers,” said Boyko.
The DSU is not a new club to Purchase, they were around years ago but disbanded during the pandemic. Now they are back and ready to help advocate for those who need it.
“It's for everyone! Students with disabilities, chronic and mental illness, neurodivergence, and allies. There is no ‘disabled enough’ to be a part of our community. Everyone's welcome to fight for better access on our campus,” said Em.
Those who would want to join DSU are encouraged to email the DSU or follow them on Instagram @purchasedsu for updates. If you want to email your own legislators yourself you can find the link in the DSU’s Instagram linktree and follow the steps.
Although both club heads are leaving, they are departing with the hope of leaving behind a better future for those at Purchase with disabilities.
“I’m hoping that we succeed at this because, for me, I’m leaving the system, but I’d like for people in the future to have more opportunities than I could,” said Boyko.