By PAULA CHRISTINE SCHULER
Some mobility-challenged students at this college have questioned whether moving the office of disability support services to the first floor of Moody Learning Center Aug. 1 serves their best interests.
They complain of difficulties with access, an inadequate cell phone signal in the office and a VIAtrans drop-off point that is often blocked by other vehicles and difficult to use in the rain.
They say mobility issues with construction projects underway all over campus add to frustration.
Education sophomores Mariana Solis and Meloday Magallanez, kinesiology sophomore Zachry Arambula and liberal arts sophomore Charlie Shivley at different times asked the same question, “Why did DSS have to move?”
DSS moved to the first floor of Moody Learning Center Aug. 1 from the first floor in Chance Academic Center, a building designed for ease of access, to be near the office of veterans affairs.
“I thought they were going to turn that place into something else,” Arambula said of the space in Chance. “I went by there (Chance Room 124) the other day,” he said. “It was just empty.”
Solis, Magallanez and Shivley expressed puzzlement on why the office of veterans affairs was not able to move into Room 119 of Chance, near the old DSS office.
Students and staff report cell phone service is poor in Moody with only two cell service providers with signals reaching indoors to the DSS office spaces.
On Aug. 1, DSS students met with Emma Mendiola, dean of student affairs, at their request. The content of the meeting remains confidential, except that it included location change concerns, Magallanez said.
She quoted Mendiola responding to student concerns by saying, “I had to move my office too, and the paint wasn’t the paint I wanted, but I dealt with it.”
DSS assistant Delia De Luna attended the meeting and corroborated this quote.
In an interview with Mendiola Nov. 7, Mendiola learned Magallanez interpreted her comment as suggesting the paint on the walls was comparable to their challenges navigating campus with wheelchairs and canes.
“There is no comparison, but yeah, I’m not going to make light of their abilities,” Mendiola said. “We have to find some place in the middle so they can do for themselves.”
Mendiola said she has been working for Alamo Colleges for about 20 years and she spent her first three years in DSS. Her background includes a master’s degree in social work.
“I would never want to insult someone by assuming that they can’t do for themselves,” she said. “That was one of the lessons they taught me when I worked in DSS.”
Mendiola’s impression of the Aug. 1 meeting was that student questions and concerns were answered and students felt better when the meeting was done.
She was surprised to learn the Magallanez had said later, “This campus seems to not give a crap about us.”
Mendiola said Alamo Colleges wants to educate the whole student, not just the academic part of the student, but the whole person of each student attending Alamo Colleges.
“We have to educate them about life,” she said. “I’m sorry it came across as unsympathetic. That’s not how I feel.”
The director of DSS, Maria Gomez, said the office combined with VA because they serve a shared population. She said laws for veteran benefits made the DSS and VA programs compatible.
The Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment VetSuccess Program authorized by Congress in Title 38 Code of Federal Regulations, Chapter 31, is an example of these laws. Also, disabled veterans are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act just as civilian students with disabilities are covered.
Gomez said the VA office serves about 2,000 students, and the DSS office serves about 2,000 students in an academic year.
Many of these students are a shared population between the two offices because so many veterans are disabled, Mendiola and Gomez said in separate interviews.
She said the shared student population was the major reason for the move.
“There was a time when there was no construction,” Mendiola said. “Suddenly there was money available and we had to act fast.”
Both Mendiola and Gomez said, the idea to combine VA and DSS was first mentioned 20 years ago. Mendiola said the opportunity appeared unexpectedly.
When asked about design of the new offices for DSS, Mendiola said she and Dr. Robert Vela, vice president of academic and student success, were required by the district administration to perform a very quick turnaround.
David Mrizek, vice president of college services, said Thursday that facilities funds were identified for moving counseling, veterans affairs and DSS during the summer.
The time allotted for use of the funds did not allow for a more thorough vetting of design plans for the project, Mendiola said.
Mendiola described a female student who came to this college needing an adult changing table, and the presence of her male attendant excluded women’s restrooms as an option.
Mendiola said, “We went above ADA regulations.” She said restrooms in the DSS offices in Moody can accommodate a student with special hygiene needs requiring an attendant.
Old DSS space in Chance will be renovated to provide more classrooms.
The new DSS space moved to combine all campus counseling components on the same floor —— mainstream, VA and DSS
“We thought we were making a nice situation,” she said. “Not everybody agreed with that.”
Limited cell phone service has been a challenge for some students as reported by Magallanez, Arambula, De Luna and Gomez in separate interviews.
De Luna is working with Sprint to work on a possible deal for a signal booster for Moody’s first floor.
A canopy promised by this college to DSS to shelter the ramp from parking Lot 16 to the east entrance to Moody has not materialized.
Mendiola said the need to bring materials into Moody for construction on upper floors was delaying the canopy construction.
She said some things cannot be controlled.
“All students have the right to voice their opinion,” Gomez said. She agreed some students vocalize their frustrations.
Mendiola agreed with Gomez regarding students’ rights to speak their mind and said she hopes students will come and speak with her after they have spoken with the director of DSS.