Following the departure of former Director of Student Disability Services (SDS) Meighen Hopton in the summer of 2018, the department has undergone organizational and staffing changes. An outside consultant, Dr. Elyse Chaplin, and Coordinator of SDS Meghan Machold both left at the end of fall 2018. Formerly its own department, SDS is now organized under student support services. Some students have struggled to get accomodations amid the organizational and staffing changes over this academic year.
Hopton left New College after her contract lapsed and was not renewed. She had been working at New College since the summer of 2014.
Many students were confused about her abrupt departure and the lack of communication.
“She always assured us that if she did leave, she would make sure we were in good hands before she left and not leave us high and dry,” fourth-year Madison Weaver, who had worked with Hopton since her first year, said. “So when [Hopton] left without letting any of us know, it was kind of like something fishy definitely happened for her to do that.”
In fall 2018, Chaplin was hired on a short-term contract as an outside consultant working part-time. Machold, who had been working as the SDS Coordinator since summer 2017, was the only full-time employee at the office. Machold did not have the qualifications to grant accommodations, so only Chaplin—working part-time—granted accommodations last semester.
Both Chaplin and Machold left New College at the end of fall 2018. Chaplin was only hired for a short period of time, but Machold’s reason for leaving is unclear.
Second-year transfer student Cassidy Heaton said that she tried to stop-by to see Machold during January’s Independent Study Project (ISP) term, but that she wasn’t there. Heaton reached out over Facebook and Machold told her that her departure was unexpected but did not elaborate further.
In a Catalyst article published Sept. 19, Dean of Student Affairs Robin Williamson said that there were plans and funding to hire more SDS employees.
“With our growth plans, we have allocated positions and funding to have two full-time staff who are able to review documentation and make accommodations in addition to a full-time support staff,” Williamson said in an email interview quoted in the article. “The process will be like every other hiring process for Student Affairs. We will conduct a national search. The entire campus will be invited to participate in the interview process.”
Williamson was unavailable to comment for this article.
Assistant Director of SDS Ruthann Daniel-Harteis started working on Jan. 22, less than a week before the start of the spring semester. Daniel-Harteis is currently the only full-time SDS employee and the only administrator trained and designated to grant accommodations. She said that she is not aware of any active searches for new staffers.
SDS is now organized under the Office of Student Success. There will not be a replacement for Director of SDS, Hopton’s former role, since there cannot be more than one director per department. The current Director of Student Success Programs, Anjali Cadena, started in the new position last month.
Kesha Jackson, the office coordinator for the Office of Student Success, works in HCL 3 with Daniel-Harteis and assists with SDS in addition to her other duties.
“I’ve heard mixed things about it from people, I’ve heard good things about it from other people,” third-year Elan Works, who sees the advantages of coordinating disability services with broader student support services, said. “I think that it’s good that we encourage a holistic approach to dealing with students with disabilities. If you go to SDS, the care shouldn’t stop there.”
Weaver had always had academic accommodations, but she is going without them for her final semester.
“It’s always been a lot of hoops to jump through, but it seemed like this year there was just no [support],” Weaver said. “I emailed four times before I got an email back.”
Weaver added, “This semester it was easier to work personally with my professors than to even try to get accommodations. Luckily, this semester I didn’t have any professors who were giving me too hard of a time, but otherwise I would have really struggled.”
Despite the issues she has had for the four years she’s been here, Weaver noted that her experience has been better than others.
“It’s been a struggle for a really long time, and I’ve mostly had it relatively easy, but I’ve seen so many other students struggle really hard,” Weaver said. “And it just shouldn’t be that hard.”