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Luther College Chips

Inaccessible residence halls put students at a disadvantage

Ben Selcke, Sports Editor

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While almost all academic buildings on campus are accessible to those in wheelchairs, the majority of residence halls at Luther are by and large still inaccessible. This inaccessibility limits students from having full access to social contact, thus preventing them from fully participating in social spaces at Luther.

With the exception of Farwell and Brandt, all other residence halls are either inaccessible or are only partially so. After the first year of college, students looking for an accessible residence hall have essentially one choice of where to live: Farwell.

Larson, which is ironically the site of Health and Counseling Services, is completely inaccessible. Students must climb up a few steps to enter the building. Larson does not have an elevator. Olson is only partially accessible, but it too does not have a elevator. Ylvisaker is only accessible on the first floor. These building are obvious in their inaccessibility and some, like Larson and Ylvisaker might be too old or difficult to renovate.        

More troublesome are Diesth and Miller. Both are theoretically wheelchair accessible, but having elevators, does not necessarily make a building easily accessible for all students. The most direct entrance is from upper campus. The problem is immediately apparent to all who enter via the bridge: in order to access the elevator, one must use the stairs down to fourth or up to fifth floor. This limits students in wheelchairs entering via the bridge to Brunsdale or one of the study wings adjoining on either side. 

From lower campus the elevators are accessible; however, this accessibility either involves ascending a steep hill from the parking lot or descending from the road that runs next to the two towers. So a student in a wheelchair on upper campus would need to use the elevator at Farwell, cross the track and football field, traverse both Regents and the parking lot, and climb a steep hill before finally having “full access” to either Dieseth or Miller. You can imagine how all of this becomes further complicated in winter with potentially inclement weather.

In both instances this adds a ridiculous obstacle to a simple expectation, that residence halls, which are a fundamental aspect of social life at Luther, be accessible to everyone.       

It is not difficult to imagine the installation of a ramp that would make the fourth or fifth floors of Miller and Diesth and their elevators accessible, among other improvements that could be made on campus buildings to improve accessibility. Primarily, it is important for students to start thinking critically about how other students on campus are advantaged or disadvantaged physically at Luther, and to take stock of how inclusive our Luther community is or is not.     

Luther’s mission statement states that we embrace diversity and challenge one another to learn in community. Luther is a residential college by design. It values the sense of community that comes from living and socializing together in close proximity. If Luther wants to attract a diverse student body and create a welcome space for all, the college needs to prioritize the accessibility of residence halls to those with disabilities. Academic buildings aside, accessibility, is deceivingly limited, leaving some students disadvantaged in their experience at Luther. Accessible social spaces are as important to a student’s choice of college as accessible academic spaces.

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The student news site of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa