This next reflection is based on areas I had the least level of knowledge prior to starting CCP, as I am currently able bodied with no learning disabilities and have no military identity. The session I am referencing was associated with the Military Veterans Resource Center (MVRC) and Disability Resource Center (DRC) at UNF, which was co-led by the directors of each office. Reflecting back on this session, I learned a lot about services provided at UNF through these two offices and these often hidden student identities.
Referring back to the iceberg from my previous post, disability and military identities can often be hidden identities. Students may be forthcoming about these identities but often choose not to self-disclose. Both offices mentioned the difficulty in identifying these students as they are only aware if students specifically seek those resources or use a benefit associated with the identity like the GI Bill. In fact, UNF has an extremely high population of students with a military-based affiliation, mainly because of the institution’s friendliness to these individuals and the vast number of military outfits in the Jacksonville area. However, the MVRC indicated that it interacts with maybe half of the population.
It is easy to not think about these identities in the development of programs and training sessions; especially students with disabilities. Students who are deaf/hard of hearing or with visual impairments are often not considered in the planning process. Creating elements for websites that are screen reader accessible can be time-consuming and difficult. Even though there are laws that require these accommodations to be provided, it is not always a part of the normal planning process. This awareness is important. If we want to create an environment that is inclusive, we need to ask ourselves these questions. How do we provide these resources? How can we ensure our programs, training sessions, and events are accessible to all students who want to participate?
In particular, many students with disabilities do not have physical disabilities, even though these often are what we think of when we think of disability. Learning disabilities are far more prevalent on campus and is where the vast majority of support provided by the DRC goes. Are we creating programs and training sessions that allow for different learning styles?
From this session, I have found myself to be more conscious of my conversations with students who share these identities with me and more aware of how I try to create inclusive spaces for these students to participate. More and more students have disclosed their military identity since attending this session and we are seeing more students with this identity pursue membership in fraternity/sorority groups. At the same time, we know that more students are coming to campus with various learning disabilities, so understanding how we can support these students and provide them necessary resources to be successful is vitally important.
Ultimately, both offices expressed the importance of helping guide students to the resources they are capable of providing. After attending the CCP session, I worked with both offices to have follow-up sessions to meet the rest of the staff and visit their offices, as a part of in-service training for our office staff. I felt it was important to learn more about each office and find ways we could connect students from our area to the resources in their offices if the opportunity presented itself.