by Brian Ponte
As the Fall Semester chugs along into its fifth week, student life at Purchase has settled into a comfortably familiar rhythm. For freshman Nicholas Astor, the cooler weather brings with it a welcome respite from a particularly tumultuous summer.
“It’s a different lifestyle so I have to get used to that,” Astor said while deftly navigating Purchase’s campus on a motorized scooter. “But I like the campus a lot and I really enjoy the people here.”
Astor has cerebral palsy and requires an aide to accomplish basic daily tasks, but the college initially denied him separate accommodations for his aide. The college’s decision to have both Astor and his aide share a single dorm room drew national media attention and considerable backlash from a variety of sources including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Following the widespread outrage, the college reversed its decision.
Astor explained that he still does not fully comprehend the massive outpouring of support he received over the summer, as he has been fighting to receive an equal education for most of his life.
“I never really felt that people would care,” Astor said. “To have powerful figures in the New York political establishment say that this isn’t right gave me hope for the future for people like me.”
Despite the semester’s early difficulties, Astor seems to have settled into life at Purchase without much trouble. The Brooklyn native had mostly positive things to say about his life at the college thus far.
“It’s surprising how nice the people are here,” Astor said. “People hold open the door for you here. I’m from New York City where nobody holds the door for you.”
Despite the backlash they received for their handling of the situation, Purchase administrators doubled down on their approach.
“We felt we wouldn’t do anything differently,” said Dennis Craig, Vice President of Student Affairs at Purchase. “As you can imagine, with limited resident hall space, and the law, we have to both have a heart in how we handle things and we have to be consistent.”
Craig stressed that despite the contentious situation, the college’s decision was not a result of any kind of personal animosity, but was instead a part of the administration’s goal of being “cognizant of safety factors and how life plays out in the residence hall.”
Astor called Craig’s comments “unfortunate,” particularly because of how difficult it was for Astor to earn his place among the student body, but also because he believes the college’s actions are contradictory to its own motto.
“I wish that they didn’t see accommodating people like me as a hassle, but as common decency,” Astor said. “If you really believe in your ‘Think Wide Open’ message you should try to integrate people who don’t normally feel integrated.”
As Purchase is engaged in a lawsuit regarding many of its older facilities’ failure to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, Astor has found navigating certain parts of the campus easier than others.
“Getting to the athletic fields can be tough,” Astor said. “I wanted to see my friend, who plays for the soccer team, and it’s almost all gravel. This chair does not take gravel well, but I’m glad they’re taking that into account now.”
Astor recalled a recent experience at Crossroads where, when faced with a difficulty in navigating the older building, Astor’s friends opted to carry both him and his scooter down a flight of stairs.
As an aspiring stand up comic, Astor spoke of the importance of using comedy to heal personal wounds. He has taken a particular interest in the stand up comedy and improv clubs, as well as Purchase Late Night.
“I think I’m going to need a little more time, but there are definitely some funny things about the situation,” Astor said. “It’s hard to tell the story straight up because there’s a lot of moving pieces, but I think through comedy it will be easier. I’m definitely going to sit down and write about it soon.”