Featured, Life @ BC, Society & People

PULSE, One Year Later – Reflecting on Service, Life, and Disability

It’s hard to believe that eight months ago, I was in the whirlwind process of applying to service placements for my PULSE class. I remember it very clearly; I desperately wanted to work here at the Campus School, and was devastated when I got the email that said I wasn’t selected. Two more placements I had applied to soon followed suit, and I was beginning to worry if I would need to be assigned to a placement that I hadn’t originally showed an interest in. But that wouldn’t be the case, as I received an email from the Campus School asking me if I would serve as a job coach for the Supported Employment Program. I immediately responded with a yes; a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t be working in the classrooms, but excited nonetheless. And eight months later, here I am, feeling a way I can only describe as bummed (to put it lightly), that my service is over, and incredibly happy and grateful that I got to serve where I did.

pulseThe class itself was excellent, and I found that the things we learned about were challenging and caused a great deal of introspection on my part. I can confidently say that PULSE helped to challenge and reshape many views I had, be they political or spiritual. Discussions were relevant, often potent, and left me thinking. I’ll come back to one particular discussion that I happened to co-lead, and the way it stuck with me in ways no other discussion did. Both the class and the service have been the most meaningful experiences I’ve had at BC so far. The class left me with a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions about injustices that people may not immediately think about. There were times I felt that the service I was doing was not as meaningful as some of my other classmates, working in places like homeless shelters, rehab facilities, or health clinics for the homeless. Yet, I was consoled by the fact that I was bringing a unique perspective to the table, as few PULSE placements worked solely with disabled populations (as well as the fact that the work I was doing was meaningful to those I worked with). I also found it challenging and rewarding to connect issues of disability to the academic topics we discussed in class, again finding that I was able to provide a unique approach to the questions we faced.camp

Now, back to that discussion I mentioned. During the discussion, we talked about something called the “hidden curriculum,” or the things that people (particularly students) are taught that aren’t part of an explicit curriculum. We then thought about what BC’s “hidden curriculum” might be. One good point brought up was that the perfectly manicured landscapes and constant eliminations of visual flaws might inadvertently signal students that the only thing that BC tolerates is perfection; anything less must be replaced. This point in particular inspired me to reflect on the way this impacts my placement. After having this discussion with my classmates, as well as conversations with some of the supervisors at my placement, and having done some reading about the notorious inaccessibility of BC’s campus, I realized that this “hidden curriculum” at BC definitely applies to the extreme difficulty disabled individuals have with moving around campus. Routes for those in wheelchairs or those who cannot use stairs easily are convoluted and require way more effort than those individuals deserve. I get that BC is built on a hill, and that stairs are kind of required for the campus to work but in all honesty, a university with the means that BC has should focus less on meticulous upkeep of the campus and focus more on making sure people of all abilities are able to comfortably navigate and enjoy it.

This was my “eureka!” moment, when I was finally able to think “oh yeah, there’s the meaning I’ve been looking for.” That I didn’t need to be in a traditionally disadvantaged placement to find great fulfillment, to draw deep and lasting connections to the questions we were faced with in class, and to take what I learned and apply it critically to the world I live in. In fact, I’m even more grateful now that my service was at BC. I’m forced each day as I walk around campus to remember the things I learned, and to be reminded of even the smallest struggles still faced at BC by those who are marginalized. I think it would be easier to leave behind the discomfort of knowing that the problems of injustice still persist had I served at a placement somewhere in Boston. But I don’t have that option, and after an incredible year of PULSE, struggling through difficult questions and learning so much from the people I served, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Shameless plug! If you are reading this as someone who is unsure whether or not they want to take PULSE, allow me to alleviate your confusion- if you can take it, take it. You will not regret it I can assure you. Don’t let the time commitment for service scare you away (as someone who was initially intimidated by that). It is all worth it!

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