CHAPMAN STUDENTS APPREHENSIVE AFTER UNIVERSITY HOSTS “CULTURAL” GRADUATIONS

Chapman students celebrate at Commencement
Photo Credit: Chapman Newsroom

By The Hesperian Staff

Students at Chapman University are worried that Chapman’s “cultural” graduations will create division and frustration within the Chapman community.

Chapman hosted six different cultural graduations over a two-weekend span during July 30 through August 1, and August 6 through August 8. 

According to Chapman’s Cross-Cultural Center, the “Cultural Graduation Ceremonies are intended for any graduate who identifies with a specific community and provide an affirmational space for graduating students to celebrate.” 

These groups include Black, APIDA, Lavender (LGBTQ+), Disabled, Middle Eastern, and Latin people. While some students hail the school for their brave support of “diversity and inclusion,” other students of these groups are worried about what this push by Chapman may do to increase divisiveness and tribalism within the University’s community as a whole.

According to one of the Chapman Cross Cultural Center’s posts on Instagram, the graduations are supposed to be an addition to the regular graduation. 

“Cultural graduation celebrations are additions to the university-wide commencement ceremony, students are free to register for these additional celebrations to share the joy of graduation with their friends and family if they choose to,” the post says.

Gage Jennings, class of 2021, was invited to attend the lavender LGBTQ+ graduation, but did not attend because he felt like individuality was more important than a group-identified graduation.

“The whole idea of celebrating people’s achievements centered around a specific defining characteristic about a person is counterintuitive in my opinion.” Jennings said, “We should not be focusing on factors that divide us… instead we should celebrate the things that we all share, which is our achievement of accomplishing our college education.”

While Jennings does admit that two years ago he would have agreed with these graduations, he now believes that everyone should root their identity in individuality rather than in a community.

Keenan Pasztor, class of 2021, was invited to attend the black graduation. Pasztor did not attend because she never felt different than anyone during her time at Chapman, and understood the double standard she believes exists in exclusive events based on the color of skin.

“Graduation is supposed to be a time of community and celebration school wide.” Pasztor stated, “If white students were to hold a “white” graduation ceremony, everyone would be up in arms about how that is racist, but when black students or LGBTQ+ students hold separate ceremonies, it’s okay.”

While Pasztor doesn’t believe these graduations should be banned, she does believe that if they exist, they need to be on an even playing field, and Chapman should not be directly involved in it. 

“If a group feels so inclined to hold a separate ceremony, they should be 100% responsible, not the university,” Pasztor explained. 

Abbey Umali, class of 2021, was invited to attend the disability graduation. Umali chose not to attend because she felt the future repercussions of the ceremony were too immense.

“I think the idea of the graduations are coming from a good place, because they want people to feel included when they’ve probably felt excluded,” Umail said. “But I think they have the potential to continue going in a direction that is dangerous.”

Umali explained that her concern is that, over time, it would become normal to separate students based on group identity, instead of how they actually are as individuals. A “divisive line” would be added to the Chapman community, while false and misguided pretences of diversity and inclusion would do the opposite.

As the coming years approach, we can only wait and see if any more “cultural events” will be used on Chapman grounds, and whether students and faculty choose to unite or further divide.

Chapman Faculty Refuse to Condemn O’Mara Over Racist Tweet

By the Staff of The Hesperian

A solicitation to 159 faculty members asking them to join a request for an ethics probe into a Chapman University history professor’s racist attacks on a popular conservative black woman has opened a chasm of rage that threatens to expose Chapman faculty to charges of racial hypocrisy.

On March 23, Dr. Liam O’Mara, a Chapman history professor, sent a tweet to black conservative commentator Candace Owens featuring an image of a napkin resembling a Ku Klux Klan hood with the message “Yikes. You may have dropped this.” Klan hoods have always been associated with racial intimidation and lynchings of black Americans, which is why O’Mara’s racist tweet has been interpreted as a legitimate racial threat by some people, including Owens.

Credit: liamomaraiv/Twitter (the tweet has since been deleted)

The Hesperian drafted a request for an ethics inquiry into O’Mara’s harassment of Owens. The request is being sent today to Chapman’s chief ethics compliance officer, Gail Nishida. 

The Hesperian’s email to faculty members sought their permission to add their name to the request. Of the 23 who responded to the solicitation, just three faculty members agreed to allow us to include their names with the request. The majority of responses received by The Hesperian consisted of threats of retaliation, intimidation and indignation.  

The 159 faculty members were specifically solicited to co-sign the ethics inquiry request because of their prior involvement last December in co-signing a statement denouncing John Eastman, the former dean of Chapman’s Fowler School of Law. Eastman had filed legal challenges on President Donald Trump’s behalf questioning the integrity of the presidential election’s outcome. 

The faculty statement (which was mysteriously removed from the internet within the last few days after The Hesperian had emailed the 159 faculty members) condemned Eastman’s representation of Trump into election irregularities, characterizing his legal arguments as representative of views which are “contrary to the core values of this university.” The statement added that Eastman’s role in representing Trump “should be regarded as an embarrassment.” 

Eastman subsequently resigned from his tenured position under pressure from his peers in the faculty, whom he contended had created “a hostile environment.” The timing of the faculty statement’s removal coinciding with the emails sent to faculty appears calculated to conceal the foundational basis for The Hesperian’s purpose for contacting the 159 faculty members. The website displaying the statement identifies Chapman English Professor Tom Zoellner as the moderator of the page. (An archived copy of the now-deleted statement signed by the 159 faculty can be found here.)

In addition to soliciting faculty members to join its call for an ethics inquiry, The Hesperian reached out to Chapman President Daniele Struppa, O’Mara’s department head, Dr. Alexander Bay, and black law Professor Bobby Dexter seeking their response to O’Mara’s racist attack on Owens. Both Struppa and Bay declined to comment, and Dexter did not respond at all. The Hesperian followed up asking each of them whether they believe that O’Mara acted unethically, violated any university policies, and whether they think there should be an investigation into the racist conduct. None of them responded.

The majority of faculty members responding to the ethics inquiry solicitation expressed fierce indignation, some even threatening legal action. While refusing to explain their reasons for withholding their consent to add their name to the request, some faculty members responded instead with long-winded lectures. Some faculty requested additional information regarding O’Mara’s behavior. Even after providing them with the extra information, The Hesperian never received another response from any of them.

The Hesperian’s solicitation to faculty is reprinted here in full:


Dear faculty member,

We are sure you have heard of Dr. Liam O’Mara’s recent racist social media attack on Candace Owens, a popular conservative black political commentator. Dr. O’Mara had the temerity and remarkably poor judgment to create an imitation KKK hood and send it to Ms. Owens. It is difficult to understand what motivates an educator to engage in such open racial hostility. The presentation of KKK hoods to black Americans has always been associated with racial intimidation and lynchings. We believe that Dr. O’Mara violated numerous university conduct codes.

This is Dr. O’Mara’s racist tweet:

Dr. O’Mara’s racist tweet became public in the OC Register and other major news outlets, which in turn has blemished Chapman’s reputation. The OC Register article can be read for free here.

We are reaching out to you specifically because you recently co-signed a statement to the Chapman administration objecting to former Chapman Law Dean Dr. John Eastman’s representation of former President Trump challenging election irregularities and expressed the view that you “have had enough” and condemned his conduct as being “contrary to the core values of this university and should be regarded as an embarrassment.” Certainly, you must agree that O’Mara’s conduct is equally contrary to the core values of this university and should be regarded as an embarrassment.

How could Dr. O’Mara’s racist conduct not invite an ethics investigation and discipline? We believe it mandates such scrutiny. Yet despite the opprobrium of Dr. O’Mara’s conduct blemishing Chapman’s reputation, the administration has thus far failed to publicly condemn Dr. O’Mara’s conduct or disassociate the university from it.

We therefore are including your name as a signatory of a letter (attachment can be found below) we are sending to Chapman’s chief ethics compliance officer, making an official “report of a violation of the code of ethics,” and calling on the Administration to condemn Dr. O’Mara and have him face discipline for his repugnant and racist stunt.

Please respond to this email before Friday, close of business, confirming your willingness to sign the request. We require either your affirmative written consent or affirmative written lack of consent. If you do not consent, please explain why you are withholding your consent, as we intend to publish a story identifying all faculty members who refuse to sign the letter.


The email was signed by The Hesperian’s editors, Ryan Marhoefer, a former Chapman student and co-founder of The Hesperian, and Abbey Umali, a current student.

O’Mara’s tweet to Owens was not the first time he had directed racism at her. Here is another KKK-related tweet from O’Mara to Owens last May:

Credit: liamomaraiv/Twitter

“Liam has followed and harassed me for no other reason than my being a black Republican, for approximately two years,” Owens told the OC Register. “I had never responded to him previously, but the Klansmen hood was a step too far.” As Owens tweeted about O’Mara’s racial harassment,

Owens has opened a criminal complaint into his harassment of her. O’Mara subsequently offered a dubious apology, blaming his “white privilege” and attempting to justify his actions as “trying to criticize… the rhetoric, not her… I was saying that [Owens’] argument should be relegated to the past.” In the same apology, O’Mara again accused Owens of promoting white supremacy. In a public comment on The Hesperian’s Instagram, Owens said, “If it isn’t obvious – no, I’m not a white supremacist. I would be more forgiving to [O’Mara] if he didn’t keep lying.”

O’Mara, then a Democrat congressional candidate, dropped out of his race after his campaign staff revolted in response to his tweet. Dr. O’Mara’s congressional campaign staff issued a statement condemning O’Mara for his “act of hate” and “racist actions [that have] materially harmed the African American community.” The statement said the staff members “neither condone nor forgive his racist actions.” The Riverside County Democratic Party also denounced O’Mara’s actions as “wrong and completely unacceptable,” adding that their party will never tolerate “discrimination, harassment, and racism.”

O’Mara’s apology – delivered only after his campaign staff and party denounced him – seemed to satisfy some faculty members.

A physical therapy professor attempted to justify her not signing the ethics inquiry by saying, “Unlike Dr Eastman, who did not apologize for a series of racist and inflammatory/incorrect statements, Dr. O’Mara has apologized for his offensive tweet.”

Curiously, Dr. Peter Simi, who teaches a course at Chapman called “White Supremacy in America,” refused to sign the ethics inquiry request. Simi said that he does condemn O’Mara’s tweet, but, “more importantly, Dr. O’Mara has acknowledged that it was wrong and apologized for the Tweet.” Simi refused to sign The Hesperian’s ethics inquiry request because it was “unnecessarily confusing.” 

Tom Zoellner, who supported the “outrage machine” against Eastman resulting in his resignation, dismissed legitimate concerns of O’Mara’s racism and white supremacy by telling The Panther, “[O’Mara] recognizes his mistake and has offered an unequivocal apology, but the conservative outrage machine is still eager to twist this into something that it isn’t and destroy his career in the process.” 

A physics professor explained his refusal to sign the ethics inquiry request by saying, “Liam O’Mara’s tweet of a KKK hood is racist and I condemn it.  However, I refuse to be a signatory of your letter…  On the other hand, O’Mara is an adjunct professor.  He is hired by contract on a semester-by-semester basis…  The chair of the History department or the dean of Wilkinson college can remove him from his teaching position by just not renewing his contract for the next semester.  They do not need to give reasons or conduct an investigation in order to do this.  Therefore, if you think that O’Mara’s conduct is unacceptable then your complaint would be better directed to the chair of history or the dean of Wilkinson college rather than to the upper-level university administration.”

However, when The Hesperian reached out to O’Mara’s department chair, Alexander Bay, for a response, Bay refused to comment on O’Mara’s behavior. When reached out to again one week later, Bay did not respond.

As an excuse for not signing this ethics inquiry request, a biological sciences professor said, “Being a non-white and non-male and signatory might invite significant levels of harassment from anyone who might read your coverage. This is extremely stressful and simply unfair for those of us in precarious positions to begin with.”

Of course, the same fear of harassment did not deter the exact same professors from publicly speaking out against the perceived racism of Eastman. The biology professor claimed that due to “personal issues” she is “simply too exhausted at the moment to have this type of battle.”


Although the solicitation to faculty explicitly stated that The Hesperian required each faculty member’s “affirmative written consent or affirmative written lack of consent” before adding an individual’s name to the request, many of those responding didn’t seem to have read nor understood it, fiercely protesting their name’s inclusion on the draft email, some calling the draft ethics inquiry request’s reference to the 159 Eastman statement participants as “unethical” and “unprofessional.”

At least one faculty member misrepresented The Hesperian’s email to school administrators and to The Panther newspaper. That faculty member misreported that The Hesperian had already sent a letter to the chief compliance officer, Nishida, with professors’ names on it without their consent. Multiple faculty members complained to campus administrators that The Hesperian’s emails “constitute a violation of university policy.” Their complaints were determined to be unfounded. 

The flurry of indignation from the faculty consisted of condescending lectures and either veiled or direct threats of legal action. Here are a few of the responses from faculty members who specifically refused to give us permission to add their name to the request:

A peace studies professor, without understanding what The Hesperian was requesting in the email, suggested The Hesperian would be liable if her name were incorrectly used: “Note that it would be libelous of you to claim that faculty have signed a petition merely because you put their name there.”

This professor inconsistently endorsed the censure statement targeting Eastman. She told Voice of OC, “Given that Chapman has made diversity and inclusion a central value of the university – especially over the last decade – we felt we needed to take a stronger stand. There’s a great need at Chapman to demonstrate what we truly value.”

An English teaching assistant leveled an incorrect accusation at The Hesperian: “It was brought to my attention that I was being added to a list of faculty who refused to participate in a petition.  I was rather alarmed when I heard about this because this is the first time that I have received any correspondence from your publication.  This is very unprofessional conduct.  Please remove my name from any and all articles.  I do not give consent or permission for you to publish my name under any capacity.  If you refuse to do so, I will take action.”

Don Cardinal, a former dean of educational studies, characterized the request as a form of “bullying” and “strong arm tactics”: “I do not grant you the right to invade my personal freedoms. This includes this current attempt at intimidation (‘requiring’ me to perform) and the subsequent request for me to explain my action or inaction… I do not grant you the right, to question my legal and moral behavior and demand a rationale from me… I do not respond well to attempts at bullying behavior that you exhibit in your attached letter, especially during these demanding times. Your strong arm tactics are unambiguously in bad taste. And, yes, you may publish my statement. Please note I have copied the Chapman Faculty Senate President and the Dean of Students to assure that my note to you is not misrepresented by you.”

A film professor adamantly refused permission without explaining her reasoning: “Please remove my name from this document. Please consider this legal notification that you do NOT have permission to use my name now or at any time in the future.  Please do not email me again for any reason.” (The Hesperian responded once, respectfully requesting an explanation for the benefit of our readers. Without responding, she unsuccessfully reported The Hesperian to Chapman’s Dean of Students for violating university policy.

A history professor seemed to be inconsistent in his responses: “Do not sign my name to this letter. If you do, under false pretenses, I will take appropriate action.” In a petition calling for Chapman “to reiterate its commitment to diversity and inclusion” in regard to Eastman’s controversy, this same professor had said that the university needs to “state publicly its values in this controversy.”

Only three faculty members have consented to their names being added to the ethics inquiry request. Out of respect for the likely possibility of their peers retaliating against them, their names will not be published, though their signatures will still be included on the private ethics inquiry request sent to Nishida.

Two of the faculty members simply gave their consent while the other, a music professor, elaborated. “Thank you for this.  Yes, I would like you to include my name on the letter.  This is not acceptable behavior for a Chapman professor.  The whole story is filled with surprising twists and turns!”


In preparing its requests, The Hesperian consulted with its unpaid legal counsel, Bill Becker, president of Freedom X, a non-profit public interest law firm. “The threats of retaliation constitute an unconstitutional prior restraint in violation of the First Amendment’s freedom of the press clause,” Becker said. “It really is remarkable to see the level of hypocrisy on display here. Just three among 159 instructors recognize O’Mara’s overt unethical act of racism. The sanctimonious refusal of others to join in the request speaks loudly to their hypocrisy regarding racial justice. Are black conservatives considered fair targets by the leftist academy?” 

He added that The Hesperian acted properly when it included the names of the public Eastman statement participants in the proposed draft request. “The Hesperian in no way suggested that the names on the draft represented their willingness to endorse the request. It was very clear what the point of featuring them was. Each of those faculty members lent their names to the Eastman statement to express their outrage. It seems logical they would want to be morally consistent by fulminating against O’Mara’s unethical behavior. Their indignation is laughable.”

Becker, a former journalist, continued, “The news story is that they are not just inconsistent, but hypocritically so, and I think they know that.”


The Hesperian will be filing its request with Nishida today. It will include the names of the principled three faculty members brave enough to defy the campus orthodoxy.

In response to a question about the power of the faculty after Eastman’s forced departure, an anonymous, high-ranking official familiar with the inner workings of Chapman University told The Hesperian, “The inmates are running the asylum now.”

Remembering 9/11: Professor Pete Weitzner Commemorates The Memorial

The National September 11 Memorial

By Pete Weitzner

I had flown back from New York on September 10, 2001. The next day, I woke up just before 6am and was about to shower and then prep for my two classes that Tuesday. But I turned on the TV first, and in a few minutes I watched the second plane fly into the South Tower. I drove to Chapman, met both classes at the starting time, and talked about the tragedy as long as they wanted to. Both classes were very brief. I dismissed class for students to be with family and friends. Nearly 3,000 innocent people had just died. The world was in shock.

Eleven years later, during interterm 2012, I took students to New York and Washington D.C. for the first time – a trip we ended up repeating for six years. It’s one of my best memories of a 20-year run as Director of Broadcast Journalism at Chapman. Like many things in life, the first year of the trip was the most memorable. We were blazing the trail, figuring it out as we went, choosing which networks and TV shows to visit and which sites and events to see while in two of America’s most remarkable cities.

Professor Weitzner and his students visiting Fox News in Manhattan

By year three I had the trip dialed in, but even that first year there were a few things, as a native New Yorker, that I knew I wanted to make available to students, most of them visiting New York City for the first time. So, for the six years of “Networking in New York and DC,” we always took in a Broadway musical, the Christmas tree and ice-skaters at Rockefeller Center (first night, via subway), and the 9/11 Memorial.

Professor Weitzner and his students visiting CBS Sports

The 9/11 Memorial was a last-Saturday item, day before we flew out, basically a free day, save shooting a few pick-ups for the TV show we’d been creating. And since Saturday was “free,” visiting the 9/11 Memorial – usually tripled with Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty by Ferry afterwards – was optional. I had 16 students on that first-year trip, almost 30 at the end, and most opted to go to the Memorial. Sometimes everyone went, pretty remarkable given it’s the last day of a breakneck-paced, two-week trip. They might rather sleep in… or recover. In 2012 (the first trip), all 16 went. The Memorial had just opened to the public on September 11, 2011.

You likely know the 9/11 Memorial is composed of two massive reflecting pools at the site where the attacks occurred, where The Twin Towers stood. The names of nearly 3,000 victims are etched in meaningful adjacency on the low bronze walls that surround the pools.

As a native New Yorker, with family in The City, I’d been to Ground Zero many times, but this was my first visit to The Memorial, which was a long time coming. Ten years. How these things work. There were a lot of people there, long lines to enter (I believe a one-hour time limit inside). All those people. And absolute silence, except for the cascading water.

Each of those intentionally-placed names could be traced to a card with a short biography about the victim. We talked with a man who was there with what seemed to be his family. He was alternately staring at the waterfall and the names in front of him. When he stepped back, I introduced myself, saying I was there with students from Chapman University. He looked at us and thanked us for coming. He told us he came every week. The man was a Coast Guard reservist and former New York City firefighter (FDNY). He was serving the Coast Guard on 9-11-2001. His FDNY firehouse lost eleven people that day, among the hardest hit. 

I asked him if he wanted to tell his story – his comrades’ story – to one of my students and our Chapman News audience. Again, he was grateful. I recall he was a strong man – big in physical stature and certitude. Classically broad and strong, NY tough and firefighter tough. So central casting. He didn’t cry but he also didn’t have much to say. Very wistful, I guess. My most vivid memories are his looking down a number of times during the interview – he was strong but he was so sad – and my other vivid memory is his thanking us several times for coming and remembering. Last weekend, I talked to a student from that trip in writing this piece for The Hesperian. Naturally, she recalled the reservist/firefighter at The Memorial. “I was so proud to be able to tell his story,” she told me.

Most students weren’t yet born – or are too young – to remember the events of September 11, 2001. And so, too young to “never forget.” I hope that when you visit New York City you’ll consider a visit to the 9/11 Memorial, in the same way I’d urge that when you go to Washington, D.C., to try to make it out to Arlington, Virginia and the Arlington National Cemetery. They are solemn, respectful and rightful tributes to heroes — thousands of heroes, who exhibited depths of courage I can’t imagine.

If you do make these visits… you’ll never forget.

Pete Weitzner ran the Broadcast Journalism Program at Dodge College from 1997-2017 before leaving to become The Editor at the Orange County Business Journal. This fall he is teaching “Journalism in the 21st Century” at Chapman.

Native New Yorker Pete Weitzner with his students

Like masks, COVID-19 safety precautions are not ‘One size fits all’

Various masks.
Photo by PIXNIO

By Abbey Umali

Like masks, COVID-19 safety precautions are not ‘One size fits all’

On May 8, President Daniele Struppa revealed the plans to bring Chapman University students back to campus for the fall semester through the “CU Safely Back” initiative. A couple weeks later, Struppa provided more insight on what the safety measures could look like in practice. Students have voiced how fortunate they are to attend a school that is even considering reopening in the fall given Governor Newsom’s recommendations to continue the lockdown, as that is something that students at larger campuses will not have the opportunity to experience. Although I would love nothing more than to return to campus for my senior year, I have some concerns about what this will look like given the number of regulations that will be put in place by the government and the university, but probably not for the reasons you would expect. 

There are approximately 900 students registered with Disability Services at Chapman University, accounting for over 10 percent of the student body. The Director of Disability Services, Jason McAlexander, has been working tirelessly with the rest of his team to ensure that students with disabilities continue to receive the support they need in the midst of the transition to remote learning. They have collaborated with President Struppa, Information Systems & Technology (IS&T), and faculty members to provide resources for accommodated testing, real-time captioning, note-taking services, technological assistance, and the extension on the pass/no pass grading option.

Through a recent email correspondence between McAlexander and myself, he stated, “Although we are in an unprecedented global situation, we are still emotionally and legally committed to accommodating students with disabilities. I think disability services and the University as a whole worked seamlessly together to ensure Chapman continues to be an inclusive environment for students with disabilities. I’m quite proud of that.” 

This flexibility has provided all students – not just those with disabilities – with opportunities to succeed academically under these challenging circumstances. Although I have faith in the care of the administration and the resiliency of the student body, I still have concerns about how these attitudes will extend into our transition back to campus.

It is obviously a massive undertaking for Chapman’s administration to find a solution that can accommodate every student’s needs, especially those who are a part of the disability community. The definition of “disability” is very broad, which means that every disabled person is facing a unique set of challenges as a result of this pandemic. On the one hand, many students with disabilities are concerned about returning to campus – even with safety precautions – because they are at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus. On the other hand, some of these precautions could cause serious health or mobility issues for other students with disabilities or chronic illnesses. For example, masks could be harmful to individuals with respiratory issues by creating blockages to airways and limiting oxygen access. Those with sensory differences or skin sensitivities could experience irritation or painful abrasions from wearing a face-covering for extended periods of time. Students with claustrophobia could have increased anxiety and panic attacks. People with hearing-impairments who rely on lip-reading will be excluded from conversations and be forced to learn a new method of communication.

Personally, aside from my muscular dystrophy that requires the use of a wheelchair, I have a genetic issue that prevents my body from flushing toxins (including those commonly found in medications, vaccines, synthetic cleaners, etc). Since wearing a mask for an extended time reduces oxygen intake, it increases my chances of being affected by CO2-related illnesses and exposes me to a higher risk of an allergic reaction. In addition, the excess CO2 will exacerbate the fatigue and muscle weakness that I already experience from my physical disability.

Based on various conversations I have had with Chapman faculty, members of the Disability & Accessibility Advisory Group, and my colleagues in the Student Government Association, I am cautiously optimistic it will not become mandated for disabled students to wear masks if it will cause them serious harm. However, one of my fears is that I, along with others who cannot wear masks, will be shamed by those who do not understand our decisions. Even though the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) exempts people with disabilities from wearing masks in public or in stores if it poses a substantial health risk for them, this has not stopped store owners from discriminating against people with disabilities due to their lack of knowledge of the provisions of the ADA. Since Chapman receives federal funding, it is required to comply with the ADA, even as a private school. The recent updates to the “CU Safely Back” initiative had no mention of exemptions for people with disabilities, so the administration will need to be held accountable to protect this group against discrimination as we return to campus in the fall.

Aside from the face-covering issue, the proposed social distancing rules present extra difficulties for students and faculty with disabilities. Given the fact that there is a wide spectrum of mobility, many people with disabilities may need assistance with different tasks that require them to be within 6 feet of another person. This could include assistance with opening doors, moving chairs or other objects out of walkways, retrieving items from out of reach places, personal care routines, and transportation, just to name a few. My concern is that students who need extra help will feel uncomfortable asking for it when they need it because they do not want others to feel like they are being put at risk. Furthermore, if they do receive help, I worry that bystanders will be concerned or judgmental of these actions, as not all disabilities are visible. 

All of this being said, it would be a shame if people pretended to have a disability just to get out of wearing a mask or social distancing. Some have misinterpreted the ADA and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) by claiming to have exemptions in situations where those laws do not apply. I have seen this mentality enough when able-bodied people awkwardly exit an accessible bathroom stall after noticing me, in my wheelchair, patiently waiting for the one stall in the entire bathroom that I can use. This behavior ends up harming the disability community and making it more difficult for us to access the accommodations we need. 

I am in no way asking that Chapman remove social distancing rules or face-covering requirements, because many members of the disability community are immuno-compromised and need those protections. I just want to return to a school where each student’s decision about wearing a mask and social distancing is respected, and made with respect to the lives of others. 

Although the major decisions regarding our return to Chapman in the fall are out of our hands as students, we still have control over how we, as individuals, will respond to the inevitable changes. If you have turned on the news or gone on social media at any point during quarantine, then you have surely seen the division and hatred that people are showing to each other. We have been inundated with negativity, misinformation, and disrespect for the last several months. I do not want us to carry those attitudes with us as we return to Chapman. 

What if each one of us…

  • Paused for a few seconds instead of reacting immediately to someone who appears to be in violation of a safety measure? 
  • Asked respectful questions and started a productive dialogue instead of judging the actions of people we disagree with? 
  • Took personal responsibility for our own health instead of blaming others for not doing it for us? 

There is always more to the story than we know, especially when it comes to the experience of someone with a disability. We need to give others the benefit of the doubt while making sure we are worthy of that same gesture being extended to us.

Abbey Umali is a senior at Chapman University and is double majoring in Psychology and Music with a minor in Disability Studies. She will be serving as the Speaker of Senate and the Crean College Senator for the Student Government Association during the 2020-2021 academic year.