By Katy B. MacKay '70
late 1960s were definitely before the days of federal requirements for
accessibility. The campus - as was the case with most residential campuses
of the time - was certainly not wheelchair-accessible. And the North
County weather didn't make it any easier. But St. Lawrence made accommodations
for me because it wanted to. The attitude, which arguably could have
been to look at this as a problem, was instead to see how to make it
work. That made a huge difference, as did the fact that Arthur "Skip"
Spring '69 had already paved the way! Because of this accommodating
attitude, I was able to handle a full class load and continue my involvement
in activities including the Laurentian Singers, the Singing Sinners
and student governance.
Since I was unable to live in the Pi Phi house (though I visited ALL
the time!), I was given a room in Whitman Hall, along with a roommate
(Ann Greene '69, later Ann DeForge), who had just transferred to SLU
as a senior. The theory was that she could give me a hand if needed,
and I could help her become accustomed to the University. The communal
bathroom on the hall was given a temporary fix so that it met my needs.
A wooden ramp was placed at the exterior door nearest my room. In those
days there was a cafeteria in Whitman, which meant I didn't have to
go elsewhere for meals - except for the obligatory trips to the UC snack
bar for french fries, bridge and euchre.
Most classroom buildings had stairs and steps both inside and out;
my classes were usually moved to the first floor. Laurentian Singers
concerts were always held in Gunnison Chapel and involved a few steps.
The hockey arena had a flight of internal stairs. The library was accessible
but Vilas Hall was not. All this of course meant that "student
power" was required to schlep me up and then down again. I never
had a problem finding someone to help get me into a building, or help
in any other way, for that matter. The annual Laurentian Singers tour
was possible because my fellow singers didn't mind getting me into and
out of concert venues - often several a day. When I think back, it was
the attitude of everyone on campus that stands out as making the difference.
Yes, I was already known on campusÑwhich I'm sure helped. But
that meant that everyone was seeing ME rather than the wheelchair. There
of course were bumps along the way. There were places I couldn't physically
get to (e.g. the land of boonies). Bad weather precluded my getting
to class or events on occasion. One winter the extreme cold caused a
handle on my wheelchair to break off. My roommate broke her leg and
ended up with a full leg cast. We scoffed at the suggestion that we
split up into different rooms, and became known as "the wheel and
the crutch" around campus.
After I graduated from St. Lawrence I had an exciting and successful
career in the public sector. I went after it because it never occurred
to me that it wasn't possible. That in
part was due to the fact that St. Law-rence showed a "can do"
attitude on my return to campus in 1968. That leveling of the playing
field enabled me to be just another student.
Fast forward to 2002. As an involved alumna and trustee, I'm on campus
at least three times a year, and have observed many changes. Building
inaccessibility is the exception rather than the rule. All newly constructed
or renovated buildings adhere to federal Americans with Disabilities
Act (ADA) guidelines. And the attitude is still there: St. Lawrence
still accommodates because it wants to. And I can see the impact from
the perspective of a current student wheelchair-user: Among other things,
there are automatic doors where none previously existed. One of the
vans used on campus has been adapted for wheelchair use, so it's now
usable by anyone and everyone and that makes my life immeasurably easier
I doubt I ever adequately thanked all those who helped make those three
years work Ð from administrators and faculty to my Pi Phi sisters
to the Laurentian Singers to my roommates Ann Greene DeForge '69, Cindy
Winans Kamsler '72 and Kevyn Salsburg '73, to the guys who ate meals
at Whitman and usually got corralled to push me up icy and snow-filled
hills to class. And for anyone who remembers carrying me up the steep
staircase inside Carnegie Hall to the amphitheater where lecture classes
were held, I promise to buy you a beer at the next reunion! I count
St. Lawrence friends among my best and longest. Ann and
I have remained close friends - in fact, I consulted with her on this
essay. I keep in close touch with many classmates, sorority sisters
and friends, and look forward to reunions, including those with Laurentian
Singers. There are a group of Sigma Pi's that I have known since freshman
year (including some with whom I still celebrate "birthday week");
we have gotten together with families for a gathering virtually every
year since then. A cookout in Connecticut is pending as I write this.
And I still zoom down Dean-Eaton hill when nobody's looking (I stay
away from the Vilas Hall side - there's a speed bump!).
A resident of New York City, sociology major Katy MacKay is a trustee
St. Lawrence and has remained active with her alma mater on many fronts
over the years.