Syracuse University Magazine

Higher Expectations
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BCCC members gather for a meeting at the School of Education.




Celebrating Disability

The Beyond Compliance Coordinating Committee Enhances Campus Culture

Students enrolled in Syracuse University today have never known a world without legislation that protects the rights of individuals with disabilities. But for members of the Beyond Compliance Coordinating Committee (BCCC), laws are only a starting point. “The mission of our group is to advocate for a campus culture that doesn’t view disability as a deficit, but sees it as part of the diversity on campus,” says Juliann Anesi, a doctoral student in the Teaching and Leadership program in the School of Education. “There are many differences among the student population as well as faculty and staff, and all of their needs should be accommodated without resorting to lawsuits to make change. If we start to make small changes along the way with ideas and cultural values, everyone benefits.”   

BCCC was formed in 2001 when a group of graduate students realized a visually impaired student in their class was having trouble getting course materials in a format he could use to complete assignments on time. The students saw this as a much bigger issue, so they started campaigning for more accessibility campus-wide. “It’s important to realize that not all laws meet everybody’s needs,” says Andrew Bennett, who is studying for a Ph.D. in Cultural Foundations of Education. “Just because we have legislation doesn’t mean we immediately have equality—it’s something we have to work at all the time.”

Throughout the academic year, BCCC provides campus-wide educational programming that supports a positive climate for disability. The group brings in guest speakers, artists, comedians, circus performers, and poets; gives presentations on universal design in learning; and holds an annual film festival to promote a culture of disability on campus. BCCC hosted Disability in an Intersectional Lens: a Conference of Emerging Scholars in Disability Studies last fall, and sponsored a wheelchair basketball tournament in March. Committee members have been working with Liat Ben-Moshe G’11 on the disability cultural center initiative, and with Professor Wendy Harbour of the Taishoff Center on a national leadership conference for undergraduates with disabilities to be held at SU in August. And Alex Umstead, a first-year doctoral student in the Cultural Foundations of Education program, is heading up a project to hold an event this fall about the neurodiversity movement, which advocates for societal acceptance of individuals on the autism spectrum as normal, rather than having a condition needing to be cured.

BCCC is a strong and recognizable presence on campus for promoting a culture of inclusion, but the group doesn’t represent all students. Although open to everyone, BCCC membership is drawn mainly from graduate students in the School of Education. Kiel Moses, a first-year doctoral student in the Cultural Foundations in Education program, thinks that is because undergraduates have a lot of fear and apprehension about connecting with their disability. Bennett says many American teenagers just want to fit in with their peers, so the last thing a first-year college student may want to do is self identify as disabled because it’s just not cool. “I can attest to this,” Umstead says. “Some students who are on the mild end of the autism spectrum can feel pressured to overcome social skill obstacles. It took me a while to fit in, and I think it would have been nice to have a group like BCCC to go to as a freshman.”   

In addition to BCCC, other student groups—including the Disability Law Society, the Students United for Visual Access Today, and the American Institute of Architecture Students Freedom By Design initiative—work together and share ideas that will bring about systemic change. “Hopefully, more groups that meet the needs of undergraduate students will form in the future,” says Ashley Taylor, BCCC president. “As a freshman you may be just starting to realize that the label you’ve been given in high school isn’t who you really are. It can be very powerful for a student to come to Syracuse and see that our campus celebrates disability.”  —Christine Yackel