By Jose Zepeda
The university has rescinded on a previous decision to displace residents with physical disabilities from Beckwith Residential Student Services, after it concluded that there was not enough staff available to tend to the students.
The decision comes as a Change.org petition gained traction, attracting over 7,200 signatures as of Wednesday. The petition demanded that the university reverse on their decision and reopen the dorms for the students.
What the semester would have looked like for Beckwith residents
On July 7, an email was sent to residents of Beckwith, stating that due to COVID-19, Beckwith is unable to provide the staff needed to properly attend to the students, prompting the closure of the dorms for the fall semester.
Instead, Beckwith would offer Zoom meetings to maintain support and conduct community activities.
The decision came 19 days after the University of Illinois System announced plans to reopen for the fall semester in a hybrid system, and just over a month before the fall semester begins.
The decision meant that residents would have had to find housing in a different building and find another provider of housing assistance. Beckwith would have provided support and counseling to help the students find assistants.
Looking for change
The decision came with disapproval from residents. Lauren Bryant, a first-year graduate student majoring in communications, believes the decision was more of a liability issue, while Emma Glennon, a sophomore majoring in community health, believes that the decision as a whole, was unusual, and thinks that the residents are not being told everything.
“You know, us students have been working together for like the last three weeks and we were able to find staff,” Glennon said. “So, it seems like there is more to it.”
The email prompted UI7’s own Zain Bando to create a video, making outsiders aware of the situation and urging for the decision to be retracted. Filmed by Bando’s mother, Saba Bando, the video has over 10,000 views on Facebook alone. Zain also published the video to YouTube and Twitter.
The university replied to Zain’s video on Twitter with a statement, stating it was a difficult decision to make and that they will do everything they can to reopen when it is safe. UI7 reached out to Chelsea Hamilton, senior assistant director of communications and marketing for University Housing, and Susann Sears, director of Beckwith. They both responded with the same statement given to Zain.
Soon after, Bando and other Beckwith residents had a meeting with Beckwith personnel on July 15, to no avail. Barrett Patton, another Beckwith resident, responded by making the Change.org petition.
Progress is made, but more needs to be done
Last Friday, the university informed Beckwith residents that their dorms in Nugent Hall will become available again.
“I’m very excited,” Bryant said. “I’m the glad the university gave us back the rooms we are entitled to and specifically designed to accommodate us.”
However, while the students will be able to live in their dorms again, they will still not be receiving assistance from Beckwith staff. This creates another issue, particularly for out-of-state students.
According to Bando, Beckwith previously received funding from Vocational Rehabilitation, a service offered by the state of Illinois, that gave money to the university to help fund the services offered by Beckwith. However, that money will not be coming in since services from Beckwith are still cancelled.
The issue for Bando, Bryant, Glennon and other residents now is how can they find a way to fund outside services coming in to help. The preferred method would be to restore the money lost, but this cannot be guaranteed.
The residents would also have to work together when getting outside services. For example, Glennon said that there will need to be someone who can be in the dorms at night in case of an emergency.
The residents also have issue with the Beckwith program itself. Bryant called the program “rigid” and mentioned that policies are very “inflexible.” Similarly, Glennon said she felt “restricted” by staff members and that there was a lot of miscommunication.
At the same time, all expressed desire to see the program grow, and improve upon foundations that have been in place since 1981.
“If it wasn’t for Beckwith, I wouldn’t be able to go to college to begin with,” Bryant said.
Photos courtesy of Emma Glennon.