Westmont Magazine Building a Culture of Belonging

By Hannah Marks ’22

Did you know that one in 10 Westmont students receive accommodations from the Office of Disability Services? Yes, that means 10 percent of students on campus experience some form of disability. Abi Bradshaw ’23, disability activist, and Mitchell Wybenga ’24, Westmont College Student Association (WCSA) representative, are passionate about bringing this issue to the forefront of college culture. They’ve developed the WCSA Accessibility Proposal. “We had two questions,” Wybenga says. “What more can we be doing to help students with disabilities, and what can we do about disability awareness on campus?”

The proposal aims to encourage practical elements of accessibility while encouraging conversation surrounding disability. “We hope to increase awareness of disability on campus while also educating people on what it means to experience it,” Bradshaw says. They want students to understand that they’re not exempt from this culture if they’re typically abled. They want people to recognize that most will likely experience some form of disability in their life as they age. “Many conversations surrounding disability become ‘us’ and ‘them’ when we’re all vital members of the body of Christ who can empathize with one another,” Bradshaw says.

To get some background on Westmont’s progress in this area, Bradshaw and Wybenga spoke to Campus Pastor Scott Lisea, who has a heart for ministry in the area of disability. Lisea mentioned that a student with cerebral palsy attended Westmont during his college years, and the administration did all they could to help the student thrive on campus. “We’ve only received support and encouragement from faculty and the administration,” Bradshaw says. “They want to make this happen.”

Westmont has always sought to uplift and encourage all students who choose to attend, no matter their ability. However, Mitchell and Abi want to address some practical issues
on campus with accessibility. “We found that the bathroom in the gym is not wheelchair accessible, and neither are the shuttles,” Bradshaw says. They both think accessibility on campus could be improved. “We’re not just concerned for students but for family and friends who visit Westmont,” Wybenga says. “They need to be able to get around and feel welcome.”

Some issues will take time to solve, and Bradshaw and Wybenga are making small
steps toward bigger goals. “We can’t get ahead of ourselves,” Bradshaw says. “We need to start with awareness and build from there.”

Abi Bradshaw ’23 and Mitchell Wybenga ’24

They’re contemplating a partnership with EasyLift for accessible shuttles and adding ramps to certain areas of campus. But first they want to get more students talking about disability. “It’s our attitude — not just ease of access — that will make people feel that they belong here,” Abi says.

Mitchell and Abi both fall into that 10 percent category mentioned earlier, so they know that experiencing invisible disabilities can be isolating. “Since no one can see my disability, I sometimes feel my peers and professors don’t fully know me,” Wybenga says. They hope to encourage courses such as Special Populations as a General Education requirement so students can understand the prevalence of disability.

Overall, faculty and administration support the initiative, but Abi and Mitchell think it’s up to the Westmont community to set the tone for this cultural shift. “It’s not just going to happen overnight,” Bradshaw says. “People need to have open conversations over time, and we hope issues of disability become more of a priority.” They think that recognizing the reality that 10 percent of students — a significant segment of the population — experience some form of disability can spur some much- needed change on campus and in the community.