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The GW Hatchet

AN INDEPENDENT STUDENT NEWSPAPER SERVING THE GW COMMUNITY SINCE 1904

The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Perspective: DSS’ flaws are hurting students in need

My ordeal with DSS left me feeling judged and unsupported.

D.C. has a reputation for endless bureaucracy, but GW’s Disability Support Services takes it to another level. When students like me ask for accommodations, it’s because there’s something we urgently need. But from my initial testing to receiving my diagnosis, the bureaucracy of DSS stretched the process out over several weeks.

It took one week to complete my testing — to get even a hearing from DSS, you must go through about eight hours of tests ranging from math to memory regardless of whether you have a diagnosis or how long you have had the diagnosis. By that weekend, I had my DSS report, and I formally submitted my request to hear from DSS. This was Sept. 17.

On Sept. 18, I was told by the representative that it would take two weeks to hear if I was going to be granted a meeting with them. While I was assigned a DSS representative on Sept. 19, she did not reach out to me until Sept. 25 — and she didn’t have any available meeting times until Oct. 2.

We hadn’t even gotten to any of my formal requests at this point. All of this was for the meeting, which was really a trial. Everything I asked for was scrutinized, and I felt like I was burdening my representative by asking for help.

I had one extremely specific request: a private — or at least semi-private — testing location.

My DSS representative talked down to me throughout the meeting, suggesting that maybe I didn’t need what I thought I did. We spent the bulk of the meeting talking about accommodations for note taking, which I did not need and never asked for. By the end of the meeting, I had to tell her multiple times my notes were fine — I even had to show her examples of my notes to show that I did not need help taking notes.

After grueling back-and-forth discussions over what we each considered “private” and “semi-private” to mean, we settled on a room where there would be other students taking different exams, so I wouldn’t be anxious when other people finished before me. I explained to my representative it wasn’t the other students literally taking the test but the background sounds that caused me to notice other people leaving.

I had to prove myself to my representative, but I never should have had to jump through these hoops. None of my concerns were taken into consideration, and no one seemed to understand my sense of urgency. I needed these accommodations, but it seemed like I was always going to get whatever situation would be easier for the school as opposed to what would be best for me.

I didn’t have these accommodations before I came to GW because I was a “smart kid” — I was always in gifted programs, always top reading level, always in honors classes — and “smart kids” aren’t supposed to struggle. I had too much pride and allowed myself to be bullied out of needing accommodations because that’s not what “smart kids” did.

But I’ve learned to advocate for myself because no one else would tell me what I needed. I learned that “smart kids” supported themselves and spoke up for themselves. When I finally told people what I needed, I was once again treated like a “smart kid” — no one at DSS understood how desperately I needed help.

I eventually got my accommodations. And while I realize every student searching for accommodations wishes it would happen faster, GW needs a way to process sudden and emergent accommodations for students with a demonstrable need for academic accommodations but who have never had them before.

Without my accommodations, I was forced to take a test that was worth a third of my grade in a small room at a time when my medication would have worn off. I couldn’t have taken the class, which was for my major, at another time.

I expected DSS to help me. But it left me — and so many others — floundering instead. Without a functioning DSS, there is not a support system in place for students who need accommodations. GW cannot claim to be disability friendly while it leaves students like me to struggle.

This University is amazing: There’s a community I love that accepts me, and my teachers have been understanding and supportive. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way or be anywhere else, but GW must acknowledge DSS’ flaws and the microaggressions its staff inflict upon students looking for help.

I felt like I was judged before I even entered the door and even more judged when I left. If it wasn’t for the GW community that I love so deeply, I have no idea if I would have made it.

Jenna Fox, a first-year majoring in political science and communications, is an opinions writer.

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