Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Students discuss their work in class at the MESA center at American River College on April 25, 2024. (Photo: Cristian Gonzalez/CalMatters)
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Archives

    Inadequate support for disabled students threatens their safety, success

    DISEMPOWERED: A MULTI-PART SERIES ON SERVICES FOR DISABLED STUDENTS AT THE PERALTA COLLEGES

    Carol Williams’ frustration with Laney College’s student services has reached the boiling point. “Do we have to have our own little Columbine here for people to realize there is a significant need?” she asks.

    Williams has been fighting for services since she first came to Laney in 2012. “We’re treated like the low-budget facility of Peralta, the last to be thought of,” she says.

    Laney students like Williams must contend with a high turnover rate and unfilled staff positions in the Disabled Students Programs and Services (DSPS). This is especially disruptive to disabled students.

    For one year, she says, Marion Martin at DSPS had to serve as both coordinator and counselor. Now there is another part-time counselor, but she is also an interim employee and leaving soon, according to Williams.

    “I’ve gone to just about everybody I could go to,” Williams says. “When [Dr. Patricia Stanley, Laney College’s current interim president] first got here, I addressed it to her. I addressed it to the Chancellor, Dr. [Jovel] Laguerre. He says he was going to look into it but nothing changed.”

    (At the time of this writing, Dr. Stanley had yet to meet with anyone at DSPS.)

    Mental health services are neglected as well, Williams says, adding that Lisa Sawadago, the mental health counselor, cannot get permanent employee status and is kept on as a temporary employee.

    This situation leaves her clients unsure of just how long they can rely on her help. “She services a lot of people here that are walking time bombs,” Williams says.

    Even physical safety is lacking. The elevator by the Laney Forum had been out of service since Feb. 2016 when Williams complained to the Laney Business Office, where she was told that the wrong part had come in.

    But after nearly tumbling down a dark stairway where the light was broken, she went to interim President Stanley’s office and threatened to complain to the Office of Civil Rights and file a lawsuit.

    The elevator was working again the next day. “But why do you have to make threats to get solutions?” she asks.

    “For a person who doesn’t know how to advocate for themselves, they are left out in the cold; it’s hurtful.”

    Williams adds that too little is being done to educate faculty on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and their responsibilities to disabled students. “I’ve had teachers tell me they don’t deal with accommodations,” she said. “It’s really opening up the school to lawsuits.”

    Miriam Zamora-Kantor, a former counselor at Laney’s DSPS, laments its “thin provision” of staff and rapid turnover in administrative personnel.

    However, she expresses admiration and hope for Denise Noldon, the new interim vice president of student services (VPSS), as has everyone that I spoke to for this article.

    History has not been kind to DSPS. Over Zamora-Kantor’s 18 years there, 16 different deans and VPSS’s oversaw the program. Sometimes that supervisory position was empty.

    “There’s no institutional follow-through,” Zamora-Kantor says. “We’d train them and then they’d be gone.” The fix is simple enough, though. “Positions need to be filled. And people need to be paid.”

    As recently as last year, new employees have had difficulty getting paid.

    Complaints from other departments about Human Resources (HR) include mistakes such as family members being left off of the employee’s health insurance. “We hate going over there,” said one staff member.

    If dealing with HR is a harsh experience for employees, walking into DSPS can be a frightening experience for students.

    It used to be that Reagan Pruitt, the front desk receptionist, served as their first contact. Thereafter, she would remain a familiar and stable figure for every DSPS student.

    Pruitt was a full-time permanent employee.

    Then, according to a source close to the situation, President Webb eliminated her position, deeming it unnecessary.

    Word travels fast and Pruitt was snapped up by another school in the Peralta district, Merritt College, where she has been ever since.

    The current part-time hourly employee sits at Pruitt’s old desk but she will soon leave to attend medical school.

    In Nov. 2015, Laney submitted its yearly request to the state for equity funding to pay for student services, Noldon said. The budget request was then peer-reviewed by examiners around the state.

    Noldon is now sharing the reviewers’ comments with the Laney student services departments. This process of evaluation and justification must be completed before any equity funds will be disbursed to the student services in need.

    The VPSS is matter of fact about this process. She and Dr. Stanley emphasized that the State is generous to the community colleges, and the colleges have nothing to complain about.

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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