By Stephen DiFiore (additional reporting by Brian Ponte)
The PSGA Senate unanimously approved a resolution to demand the administration to reform SUNY Purchase’s protocol regarding the evacuations of students with disabilities during campus emergencies such as fires.
The resolution was introduced by Senator Nick Astor (OB) who participated in a protest in the school library to bring awareness to the issue.
(For coverage of the protest click here)
The current protocol says that students with disabilities must wait by the nearest staircase, call UPD and wait for them to meet them at the staircase to be evacuated.
“Of the 20 fire alarms that went off, none of those times have the physically disabled students been able to exit the building,” Astor said. “Nobody really runs through the process with us.”
During the course of the protests which took place over Monday and Tuesday, Chief Diversity Officer Jerima DeWese sent out a campus wide email which said, “Please note that we have an existing Emergency Evacuation Plan in place that aligns with SUNY policies and industry best practices. Our Emergency Evacuation Plan takes into account both the safety of the community as a whole, as well as the safety of individuals who require assistance.”
DeWese also had a phone conversation with Sonia Rio-Glick, another organizer of the protest.
Danny Smith, who was at the Senate meeting to speak on Rio-Glick’s behalf, said DeWese “had a very frustrating [to Rio-Glick] time talking to her.”
Rio-Glick had said at the protest that she felt “gaslighted” by the phone call because DeWese blamed Rio-Glick’s concerns on anxiety.
“She [Rio-Glick] is not here right now,” Smith added. “She needs a break.”
Regarding DeWise’s email, Smith said, “It was false information. It was propaganda,” claiming that the plan does not prioritize student safety.
“Students lives are in danger,” said Smith.
The resolution called for a number of things. The first major point is that students with disabilities be notified of fire drills at least 12 hours in advance so that they have at least some time to prepare for it.
Astor is also asking the administration to automatically send UPD officers to any building that has an alarm go off to evacuate individuals with disabilities instead of requiring that students call them first.
“They should come every time the fire alarm goes off,” Astor said.
Another major proposal is to have practice runs of the evacuation process with students with disabilities so they can have an idea of what to do and how it would work in a real emergency situation.
The Senate is also asking that the protocol be changed to having responders go directly to the dorms of all students with disabilities in case they cannot get themselves to the stairway in time.
Astor referred to the policy of SUNY Geneseo, which gives each student an individualized form on what they need during an emergency situation should they need assistance.
In the meantime, the Senate is requesting that the administration meet with all parties necessary to resolve this issue and that they have a new plan within a week.