Leadership fraternity Pi Kappa Phi pushes for a more accessible campus for the disabled

James Holloway and Eric Dawson pass through the EMU's southern lawn. Pi Kappa Phi was colonized in the Fall 2011 term, and the chapter is expecting to be chartered on May 4th of this term. (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

James Holloway and Eric Dawson pass through the EMU's southern lawn. Pi Kappa Phi was colonized in the Fall 2011 term, and the chapter is expecting to be chartered on May 4th of this term. (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Posted by Sam Stites on Friday, Apr. 5 at 9:00 am.

National leadership fraternity Pi Kappa Phi wants to change how the public views people with disabilities. Members took their mission to the next level Thursday when they organized an event to raise awareness about accessibility on campus.

Through their philanthropy — Push America, a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization — Pi Kappa Phi members sponsored 30 students to give up walking for a day and see what life is like for a person in a wheelchair. The goal of the event: to file a report for grant money to improve campus accessibility as well as give students firsthand experience of the difficulties of navigating campus with a disability.

“Our main goal was to show how accessible or not accessible the University of Oregon campus is on a normal basis,” said Eric Dawson, event coordinator and Pi Kappa Phi brother. “In a lot of cases we’re finding out that it is not accessible in certain buildings where you can get to the first floor, but not the classrooms.”

Dawson says he hopes to foster change through this event and show just how flawed this campus might be. He personally organized the wheelchair rentals and recruited fellow Fraternity and Sorority Life members to participate in the event.

“At the end of the day we’re hoping to possibly get grants for the parts of campus that are not accessible and make a change,” Dawson said. “Volunteering with Push America I’ve gotten a great chance to get connecting and realize there is nothing different about people with disabilities. I felt very strong about putting on this event because it hurts me to see them get mistreated.”

Gamma Phi Beta sister Jennifer Dodge was one of 10 sorority women who participated in Thursday’s awareness event. She said her experience was revealing because of how stressful it was to navigate campus without the use of her legs.

“I decided to volunteer because I thought it would be an eye-opening experience to see what it’s like for people on a daily basis,” Dodge said. “It was really tiring. After the first 20 minutes I was really overwhelmed having the anxiety to not know if I’d be able to get anywhere.”

Dodge says she fell at one point, triggering sympathy from passersby who helped her back into her chair. She was surprised by the compassion — and lack thereof — from strangers across campus.

“I got a lot of people brushing me off, but others who help push me and be friendly and ask how I was doing, so learning how people respond to disabled people firsthand was my biggest takeaway,” she said. “We need to not assume things about people because you never know what they might be struggling with throughout their day.”

Pi Kappa Phi’s media point person, A.J. Bell, says that his fraternity pushed for this event because they identified a lack of interest from other groups on this particular issue. Bell feels particularly passionate about the issue because of his personal connection through family and friends.

“We’ve never seen anything like this on campus from any group whether that be greek or non-greek,” Bell said. “I have friends who go here to the university who are disabled, so we thought it would change the way people looked at them.”

  • DS

    Is it just me, or does/did anybody else see this as completely ridiculous and insulting? I get that its supposed to raise awareness, I’m all for ADA compliance, and I generally see myself as non-discriminatory. It just didn’t sit right with me. Why not involve actually handicapable people?

    • Anon

      Maybe because people that do not have a disability (the more PC term for “handicapped” btw) can’t fathom what life is like to have a disability. I think it was kinda cool that they did it.

      • Intelligent Anon

        if you would pay attention you would notice that he said “handicapable”. God people need to realize they don’t have the right to be offended.

  • raduostudent

    Daily Emerald, you are such a ridiculous and flimsy excuse for a newspaper! I was one of the MANY people who voiced my feelings of disgust and anger to Pi Kappa Psi about this excuse for an “awareness campaign.” Doing wheelies around campus in a wheelchair when you don’t actually need one for mobility reasons is about as bad as wearing blackface around our campus to find out what life is “really like” for students of color. When I talked to members of Pi Kappa Psi, they told me they had gotten a LOT of negative feedback from students who found this stunt highly offensive. How did you miss that when you actually talked to members of the fraternity? Did they just not tell you, or did you not think it was important enough to report on that many UO students were outraged about this?

    • Sam Stites

      You raise a very interesting point. We did not, unfortunately, get a chance to speak with anyone with this same sentiment, but we would love to hear what you have to say. Please contact news@dailyemerald.com so we can talk about running a piece addressing these opposing issues. Thank you for your feedback and we hope you contact us soon.

    • Anonymous

      Pretty sure you are completely missing the point of ‘Accessibility Awareness day’. Its stupid to think the reason that it was happening was so that people could find out what its like living with a disability, because that would be impossible. I know some of the guys from Pi Kappa Phi (you got that wrong), and they said that the reason for doing this day was to test the accessibility of campus, and to submit something to the university and to Push America in order to fix the older, less accessible parts of campus. You completely missed the point. I was told that they got the OK for the event from PUSH America (a nationally recognized organization) and the Special Olympics for this event. If people from the Special Olympics were holding an event like this, would you go up to them or post a comment about how offended you were that they would do that? No, you would not.

      I don’t know where ALL that negative feedback came from, because I sure didn’t hear any. I heard a lot of positive feedback from a bunch of people on campus. I also heard from actual people with disabilities voice their support for the group, which really should be the only opinion that matters right?

  • Anonymous

    Can the people with bad comments just stop….This Fraternity was trying to do a really great thing and it doesn’t help when you guys make it seem like a bad thing. It’s sad to see people can’t just leave a good event for what it is and have to try and ruin it.