Life At UCSC

By Hannah Gray (UCSC Graduate, 2005)

“But UCSC is built on a hill!” was the predictable exclamation whenever I told friends or family of my choice in institutes of higher education.

And they were right. I, with my trusty (manual!) Quickie, chose what is commonly thought to be the least wheelchair friendly campus in the entire University of California system. “Why don’t you go to Berkeley? Its much flatter,” people suggested. Yes, yes, Berkeley is flat, but, I countered, Berkeley isn’t nestled in massive redwood groves with deer wandering past classroom windows. UCSC’s marine biology program (my major) is much stronger than Berkeley’s. Stubbornly, I insisted that I wasn’t going to let my Cerebral Palsy influence such life-marking decisions. Besides, who wants to be a Golden Bear when they can claim allegiance to a Banana Slug?

And so it went. I was deposited into Stevenson College dorms exactly four years ago, and then left, all alone, to fend for myself. My first encounter with wheelchair access was to find that the accessible room I requested had been commandeered by the Residential Assistant, leaving me to wedge my chair through a regular door and into a room where I could barely turn around. Everything seemed very far away, and I had to ask for help just to get up the hill from the dorms to the dining hall.

But as my frosh year progressed, campus became less scary.

I discovered the flattest routes, the paths with fewest potholes, and learned (through trial and error!) which elevators don’t operate 24 hours a day. What I first took to be lack of sensitivity towards disabled issues (ie. my dorm room being stolen with no one particularly concerned about rectifying the situation), I soon began to appreciate – No longer was I treated as special. I was not patronized or handled with kid gloves. At UCSC, I was a student, not a disabled person. It was a refreshing change from high school.

That’s not to say that I was alone on campus. The Disability Resource Center and ADA Compliance team were always prompt and helpful in facilitating accommodation needs and resolving issues. But they were simply resources available to me – they only got involved if I initiated the process.

I’m not very good at giving advice, and my four years at UCSC don’t give me much authority. If I were to tell new students anything, it would be to find your own niche at UCSC. Use your resources. Don’t expect everything to always go entirely smoothly, because it won’t. Remember that you’re just a student and that the people around you are only human – keep up a sense of humor, treat others as you would like to be treated, and don’t forget to stop and smell the redwoods!