I was selected to be a student volunteer in the First Year Reading Experience (FYRE) program.  I was excited but knew I’d need accommodations to attend. For me then as it is now, it is all about getting from point A to point B. I can’t depend on my legs getting me too far. It can be frightening.  So here goes.  The following is an email conversation.

First Year Reading Experience <fyre@salemstate.edu>
Wed 8/7/2013, 9:17 AM
First Year Reading Experience <fyre@salemstate.edu>
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………Wed 8/7/2013, 9:17 AM
First Year Reading Experience <fyre@salemstate.edu>
Action Items
“Good afternoon First Year Reading Experience student volunteers,
Greetings! I hope that you are all enjoying the summer and getting excited for the start of school in just a few short months. Here in the First Year Experience Office we are busy prepping for the arrival of nearly 1150 first year students (and gosh there is a lot of prepping!) Thank you for agreeing to volunteer your time the day before classes begin to help with our FYRE program. As upper-class or graduate students your willingness to informally mentor our incoming students is MUCH APPRECIATED and one of the reasons I love working with you all!

Hopefully at this point you have all received your book in the mail and are almost finished reading it. If not, get reading! ( J )
I wanted to give you some information regarding your serving as a FYRE Student Facilitator!

– If you are living on campus, you will be able to move into your assigned residence hall on that Monday, September 2nd during the normal move in times, free of charge. We have provided your information to Residence Life. If you recently (since the end of May) decided to move on campus, just let me know so we can add you to the list.

– On Monday evening we are having a dinner on campus to just answer any questions, prep for the next day, etc. More information about location will come out as we get closer. We’d love everyone to join us, but understand that if you are living off-campus you may not be able to make it. Try to schedule it in though!

– The schedule for the day is posted at: http://www.salemstate.edu/fyconvocation

– We ask that you arrive on campus around 9am – we will have Bagel World, juice/coffee, fruit available for you when you arrive. Details on where to meet will be sent out as we get closer. This will give you a chance to meet each other and also get your t-shirt if you didn’t get it the night previous.

– Convocation itself will occur from 10:30am – 11:30am in the Rockett Arena, O’Keefe. Piper Kerman, the author of OITNB, will be the keynote speaker. We ask that you join us at the event and help welcome students, answer questions (where is the bathroom), etc.”

– After Convocation, there will be a BBQ on North Campus for you to enjoy, and FYE will have a booth set up where students can come to find out what room they are assigned to for the discussion (in case they didn’t write it down). We invite you to enjoy your lunch over by our booth and ask that you help us if the crowd gets crazy (since most of the first years won’t have written down their room).

– As the BBQ wraps up, we’ll gather the first year students to take a giant group photo and then send them to their rooms for the FYRE discussions. Your room assignments and faculty/staff co-facilitators will be sent to you next week. The discussion is from 12:45pm – 1:45pm.

– After the discussion is over, we ask that you bring us back the evaluation forms and then you’re free to go! You are welcome to stop by the Viking Connections event or Ice Cream Stand later that afternoon, but also appreciate if you’d rather go home and nap. J

If you’re wondering a little bit more about what helping facilitate the discussion group will look like, here are a couple tips:

– The FYRE discussions are a chance for first year students to talk about the book and begin engaging in college level behavior.

– Our focus is getting the STUDENTS to talk. As a facilitator, we want you to think of interesting questions or prompts that will get students thinking critically about what they have read.

– We will provide you sample questions to ask, but you are encouraged to bring with you one or two questions that you thought of OR a particular chapter/moment in the book that impacted you. The more open ended your question, the better (i.e. avoid questions that students can answer with a “yes” or “no”).

– If the discussion veers away from the book and instead focuses on “what happens if I make a mistake in college – will I get thrown in jail?” that’s okay! We are okay with the conversation veering away at times if it helps the students feel more confident mentally preparing for their first day.

– While we want the students to talk, we also rely upon you to help get the conversation going – first year students are more likely to engage if they see another student sharing. So think about how you can help answer a question that the faculty/staff facilitator poses if the silence drags on a bit too long – and how can you phrase it in such a way as to engage the first years. End your statements with “What did everyone else think? Did anyone else feel the same way I did?”

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to drop me an email! Thanks again for being willing to volunteer and be a part of this experience for our first year students. “

Looks fun, doesn’t it? I thought so. I was raring to go. I bought the book for my Kindle and read it. My hands are bad, so turning the pages of the free book can be hard. I contacted the coordinator.  What I really needed was parking accommodations.  I wasn’t really clear about that to be fair.

Joyce A. Bowen
Fri 8/9/2013, 6:55 PM
I am disabled. I have autoimmune disease. Figuring out where I need to go to park in order to work with this program is key. Because my walking is poor, I need to drive through in order to strategize getting from place to place ahead of time. When will we have the information we need in order to know where we have to go?
Joyce Bowen

I suspected my disability would make me a no-go, but I had hope—I had fervent hope. I waited for a response.

“First Year Reading Experience <fyre@salemstate.edu>
Mon 8/12/2013, 8:49 AM

Good morning Joyce!
I will put some information together today and tomorrow and get that right out to you. Thanks for asking about it.

Are you connected on Facebook? Like “First Year Success at Salem State”, “FYRE First Year Reading Experience at Salem State University” or “SSU Civic Engagement Hall of Fame”.

Mathew Chetnik | Associate Director, First Year Experience | Academic Affairs
978.542.7572 | Salem State University | 352 Lafayette Street, Salem, MA 01970
“There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.” ~Douglas Everett

Then there was silence. I emailed again.

Joyce A. Bowen
Wed 8/21/2013, 5:38 PM
I am going to have to bow out if there is no information soon. Next week gets complicated for me. It will take me hours to plot my course through the required movement Tuesday. I’m sorry to be a pain in the arse, but my body just won’t do what I want it to do.

I waited a few more days… I knew what my next action would have to be in order to not disadvantage the program.

Joyce A. Bowen
Fri 8/23/2013, 3:15 PM
I have to cancel my participation. It would have taken me several hours to work out my path from where I could have parked centrally and walking the route to insure I could meet the schedule in a timely fashion to fully participate. I have an exam that I plan to finish from here on in. It’s ironic that a book was chosen about a marginalized segment of society – I know just how they feel.

I think, as a disabled person, I feel as if I need permission to be disabled. The phrase, Life goes on comes to mind. When you’re disabled life tends to go on without you. The hustle and bustle of the able-bodied leaves you behind when you’re disabled. If you can’t keep up, well—Sucks to be you.

It broke me a bit to not be able to get the help I needed. SSU was obviously on a path to disclude the disabled. That fact was evident in the placement of their Office for Students with Disabilities. It was physically very hard for me to get to, but I had to have paperwork from them, and it was where I took my exams. The OSD was delighted with their new offices, but as you can see from the picture that goes with this post that concrete path was interminable. That path simply represents the climax of what students with physical disabilities endured.  I wrote a comment on Salem State’s post that goes:

At first glance, this is a beautiful scene. Look again. Down this long path is the office for students with disabilities. I remember my last year at SSU traversing this path with trepidation. Would I end up on the concrete and have to wait for someone to try to pick me up? It’s ironic that they have doors geared for the disabled with no thought as to how they could reach them.

I was relentless in my goal to finish my degree. As a budding psychologist, I forced myself to deal with feelings of humiliation that I imposed on myself as I mentally saw myself having to fall to the ground in order to get from class to class. I strategized routes to get to an elevated level of the campus. I protested when my Ethics professor gave me an absence because access to the class was restricted to me when the elevator to the second floor was broken. I lost.

I received my degree, but we were required to stand in long lines for the queue to receive our degrees. I had the picture taken of the University President handing my degree, but what you see is tired, desperate woman putting out her hand to shake the president of the university’s hand and accept her degree.

The intensity of this event was like that of a final exam. The stress was palpable.  We stood so long, I bore down and gave birth to the ability to make it across the stage. I know this must have been the face I always wore as I traversed the campus at SSU.

I never framed the picture. I am ashamed of it. I should be proud. I goddamned made it. I overcame obstacles in order to achieve an end.  I achieved my goal.

I like to believe if my voice is loud enough, yours will be heard—even if it’s a whisper. This is for those that triumph through adversity.

I think I can frame the picture now.

Copyright 2017 by Joyce Bowen

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