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Senior Bars Perpetuate Exclusive Community at Harvard

By Chanel E. Washington

I use a wheelchair. Like a big, 400 pound, electric wheelchair. I have a disease that causes my muscles to be weak, useless bastards, so I need a wheelchair to get around. There are a ton of other interesting things about me, but they are, tragically, not op-ed worthy.

I've spent my four years at the College reminding myself I chose Harvard. I knew other schools would be more accommodating, accessible, and safe from the possibility of snowpocalypses, and yet I chose Harvard. I have had some amazing experiences during my time here thanks to my A+ friend group, and while nothing can devalue those memories, the Harvard social community is simply restrictive for students with disabilities.

Of the 12 houses, only Quincy, Pforzheimer, and Currier are fully accessible (one can hope renewal will improve this over time), so when the Eliot Cockpit or literally anything in Kirkland is "goin’ up on a Tuesday," I will not be there. In my experience, final clubs as well as fraternity and sorority spaces are not accessible. Remember that awkward moment when I punched the Bee and the second round event was in an inaccessible house, so I had to make up said event by getting awkward lattes with the Bee president, and then I didn’t make it to the next round? Maybe I’m just painfully boring or not as cool as I think I am. Or, you know, Harvard social life is not open to people with disabilities. But I chose Harvard.

Still, I had hope for senior year. We’d have events and senior bars that would bring the class together. The Senior Class Committee is a college-sponsored group, I thought, so there was no way a function wouldn’t be accessible. Ah, to be young and naïve.

Senior Bar at Queenshead: yup, good, crowded, but fully accessible.

Senior Bar at Tasty Burger: Arrive, go to lift, lift is broken. Manager proceeds to get stuck inside the lift in her efforts to fix it. SCC assures me, “We had it checked! It was working fine!” Manager is freed. More efforts to fix the lift are failing. I feel angry and embarrassed at the circus this is causing, and I leave. After many expletives on my end, my friends assure me it was just an ironic and crappy coincidence, and tell me to give the SCC the benefit of the doubt, because after that debacle they will definitely be aware of accessibility when choosing Senior Bar venues.

Senior Bar at Uno's was announced this week. Knowing Uno’s bar is downstairs with no elevator access, I sat for a solid two minutes in confusion upon seeing the news. Did the SCC not bother to remember accessibility, or at this point do they just not care? Posts on the Facebook event reveal that part of the first floor restaurant space has been reserved to make “accommodations.” To me, this translates as, “Well, the real action and atmosphere is downstairs, pretty much everyone will gravitate down there, but we’re just gonna stuff you, your friends, and our other disabled classmates up here next to a family of four trying to enjoy their Chicago-style deep dish. Smile! We’re accommodating you!”

To some, this may seem a touch melodramatic. For me, after four years of navigating the restricted Harvard social climate, further limited by physical boundaries, I’m over it. Yeah, I chose Harvard, but when it comes to college-sponsored class events, I won’t accept excuses for anything that isn’t fully accessible.

Senior Class Committee: If you are using a venue in which all or much of the main space is accessible by stairs only, it isn’t accessible. If lifts or elevators are broken, it isn’t accessible. I have passed on a list of fully accessible venues in the square to the committee. For now, I’ll sit over here patiently awaiting the announcement of the next senior bar, sipping my tea.

Chanel E. Washington ’15 is a government concentrator in Quincy House.

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