Disability Services Tests New Spaces

Nathan Acuña

On Monday Oct. 24, Video Production Studios (VPS) students and advisors, and Student Life and Academic Affairs administrators met to discuss the lack of testing space for students with disabilities. They laid out the terms of VPS’s exodus from their studio, located on the first level of Wardman Library, for students needing testing accommodations. VPS’s new office location is currently undetermined.

Under the American with Disabilities Act and Section 504, which protect the academic rights of students with disabilities, Whittier College is required to provide certain accommodations to their students; one such service is testing space. 

Currently, students with alternative testing arrangements take their tests in limited locations such as a small room on the second floor of the library or in IT Services. 

According to the office of Academic Affairs, Disability Services is in serious need of a permanent testing space, which the office does not currently have.

“One of the basic features of a department of Disability Services is a testing space; we lack that here on this campus,” Director of the Center for Advising and Academic Success (CAAS) and Assistant Dean of Academic Support Andrea Villegas said. “And we’ve been advocating for a long time.”

The office of Academic Affairs looked to VPS as a prime choice for a testing room. 

This is because of its location under the library, its ADA-compliance accessibility, and its proximity to Disability Services’ current location, just across the hall. 

Both Villegas and Vice President of Academic Affairs Darrin Good note that Disability Services’ need for a testing room is not just a desire, but a federal requirement. “We’re federally mandated to do these accommodations,” Good said. “Many of the students do have physical disabilities, making a lot of spaces out of the question.”

Even with Disability Services’ expansion from a 25 square-foot office in CAAS to the VPS office, a larger issue still remains. There is a lack of adequate space for students with disabilities on campus, which Villegas confirms. 

When asked if this office expansion would be enough for Disability Services, Villegas responded that it was a good start, but the space would still not be enough for the school to handle the 200+ students on campus who require academic accommodations. 

“And it’s still a two-person office,” Villegas said. For the aforementioned 200+ cases, the office only has one case counselor, Director of Disability Services Stephanie Smolinski. Additionally, Accommodations Coordinator Bianca Vinci also doubles as the office’s Administrative Assistant. 

“On a good day, she’s proctoring five tests at one time,” Villegas said. “On a rough day, it can be more than that. We don’t have a devoted space that we can use 24 hours.”

Villegas says that Disability Services has already been using some space in the VPS office as space intermittently.

“For three years now, Disability Services has used some aspect of VPS, which didn’t work because VPS didn’t want to give their space up during the day.” 

The question now remains: who is responsible for finding an adequate studio space for VPS? “In my opinion, and as I told them, because they’re a student group, [Vice President and Dean of Students Joel] Perez and [Interrim Director of Leadership Experience and Programs] Debbie Allison are the people [VPS] report to,” Good said. “We need that space as soon as possible, but that’s a part of the conversation we’re having right now... to give them more time to find a more permanent, appropriate space.”

Dean Good also stated that Academic Affairs was willing to assist VPS in their move. He also stated that the current location plan for VPS of the second floor of Wardman Gym, which is not ADA compliant, would appropriately fit VPS’s needs. “I think so, and a number of faculty thinks so,” Good said. “Their advisor thought so, Andrea Rehn thought so.”

VPS staff say that they feel blindsided by the way academic administration has sprung this eviction on them. 

“We were only brought into the conversation about three weeks ago, and this had apparently been in the works for a year, which had been confirmed by Villegas,” Senior Executive Producer Luis Manzo said. “Essentially the conversation [on Monday] was discussing our options as to where we would move to. They weren’t taking any responsibility — they just wanted us to be out.”

He also feels Wardman Hall is not adequate for VPS. “The options are less than what we have now... this space is what works for us,” Manzo said. “Thankfully we have a lot of support from Debbie Allison, from Associate Dean Josh Hartman, from [Assistant Professor of Film] John Bak in canvassing a new space for us and Senate’s behind us in terms of advocating for more time for us because we feel two weeks [which is what we were told] to move out is not enough.” 

Ultimately, Manzo wants administration to know that they understand the necessity of Disability Services for this space, but is requesting compromise. “We’re not fighting to keep the space, we just need more time,” Manzo said.