Trustee board moves toward Universal Design, adds second student constituent

By ABIGAIL CHANG

The Middlebury Board of Trustees approved at their Winter Term meeting the use of universal design in the renovation of Warner Hall, a set of standards that goes beyond the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guideline. It also approved the addition of a second student constituent advisor (SSCA) to the board, applications for which will be solicited this spring.

Making Warner universally accessible

An item approved by the trustees will incorporate universal design into renovations ofWarner Hall which are slated to begin this summer. Universal design is based on the concept that a space should be accessible and should provide the same experience to all those who use it.

The Advisory Group on Disability Access and Inclusion (AGDAI), a group of students and faculty, advocated for the implementation of universal design when discussions of the renovation began two years ago. The school has consulted the AGDAI throughout the construction of the 75 Shannon Street building and during the ongoing renovations of Munroe Hall. 

Mark Gleason, the co-chair of the AGDAI, explained that universal design differs from ADA compliance. One of the differences is that buildings with multiple floors must have an elevator in order to be ADA compliant, but are not required to have accessible bathrooms on every floor.

“Universal design goes a little bit further than that so that any individual’s experience in getting into the building and using the building is as close to anybody else’s as possible,” Gleason said.

For the Warner Hall renovations, AGDAI pushed for an entrance on the south side of the building that is flush with the ground, eliminating the need for stairs or a ramp. Gleason said that, from what he has seen, that recommendation has been incorporated in the plans.

The college does not always take the group’s suggestions. Gleason explained how AGDAI advocated for an accessible entrance on Munroe’s eastern side, facing Voter Hall, but community members who need to use an elevator will need to use the north entrance, as both entrances on the east and west of the building will have stairs.

“I think Middlebury has come a long way towards understanding universal design,” Gleason said. “I think it’s got a ways to go to really say that, yes, we implement universal design on campus. But I think it’s a process. There’s a lot of discussions we have today that we wouldn’t have had five years ago.”

More student representation on the Board of Trustees

Formerly, the Student Government Association (SGA) President served as the sole student constituent advisor to the College Board of Advisors, one of three boards within the Board of Trustees. Varsha Vijayakumar ’20, the current SGA president, explained that SGA has been working to add a SSCA to the College Board of Advisors for a few years. The initiative was spearheaded by Jin Sohn ’18, former SGA president, and Ish Alam ’18, Sohn’s chief of staff from March to May 2018. Sohn and Alam sponsored a bill calling for the addition of a SSCA to what was then called the College Board of Overseers. The bill also recommended a two-year term for the SSCA and voting power for both constituent advisors.

Vijayakumar pitched the idea again during the Board of Trustees’ October meeting. Since the SGA president constituent advisor only serves for one year, some trustees expressed a desire for greater continuity between student constituent advisors, Vijayakumar said. The SSCA’s two-year term is intended to create that continuity.

She also noted the importance of including the voice of a student not involved in SGA to expand which topics are brought to the attention of the board. She explained how her time in SGA has given her an insight into why some initiatives take longer than others or why some are less feasible.

“And that’s really great for many reasons, but also can sometimes dilute the amount of information that is shared with trustees,” Vijayakumar said. “For example, I know that I implicitly prioritize certain agenda items based on what I think is most feasible or tangible to accomplish.”

An email from the SGA to students last Thursday provided details about the position and a link to the application, which is open until noon on March 19. The three-member selection committee, made up of First-Year Senator Kaitlyn Velazquez ’23, First-Year Senator Miguel Sanchez ’23 and new Feb Senator Melisa Gurkan ’23.5, was appointed during Sunday’s SGA senate meeting, and is responsible for choosing three or four candidates from the applicant pool to present to the senate. SGA will recommend one applicant to the college by March 30.