A Framework for Creating a Campus Culture of Compassion: A Participatory Action Research Approach to Equality
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The presence of students with disabilities on university campuses is steadily increasing; however, their total integration and inclusion into campus life has not been as successful (Merchant & Gajar, 1997; Promis, et al., 2001). Canadian students with disabilities continue to be marginalized within universities, mainly because a framework for inclusion has not been firmly established (Promis et al., 2001). Although universities offer services to support academic success, other facets of campus life offered to the general student population, such as recreation or athletics, are often neglected for students with disabilities. These aspects of student life should not be considered trivial as they have many benefits and can enhance a person’s experiences and quality of life at university (Ashton-Shaeffer et al., 2001; Blinde & McLung, 1997; Blinde & Taub, 1999; Promis et al., 2001). Guided by critical disability theory and the concept of embodiment, this dissertation used a participatory action research approach that united key partners from the University of Guelph community in order to examine issues around accessibility and inclusion of students with disabilities in campus recreational and athletic opportunities. The team included representatives from the University’s Centre for Students with Disabilities and the Department of Athletics, an undergraduate student with a disability, and two university alumni. The ultimate goal was to develop a planning framework to guide universities in supporting the human rights and inclusion of students with disabilities in extra-curricular campus life. Interviews were conducted with five research team members and 18 University of Guelph stakeholders, including: students with and without disabilities, staff members from the Department of Athletics and the Centre for Students with Disabilities, faculty members, and senior administrators. A focus group was also held to share findings and generate feedback on a preliminary draft of the framework. What emerged from data analysis of the interviews, the focus group, team meetings, and journal entries was the development of a framework for Creating a Campus Culture of Compassion. This framework identifies how universities can implement programs, policies, services and practices that better respond to the changing and diverse needs and interests of students with disabilities in order to ensure their full engagement in all areas of campus life. The framework centres around six guiding principles that help guide universities toward developing a campus culture that is compassionate. Essentially, a campus culture of compassion values: (a) access for all; (b) diversity and uniqueness; (c) interdependence and social responsibility; (d) diverse knowledge basis, voices, and perspectives; (e) the power of learning and education as a tool for social change; and (f) the whole person. The framework also indicates three fundamental characteristics that a campus culture of compassion must possess. In essence, post-secondary institutions and their community members must be: (a) interconnected, (b) supportive and enabling, and (c) informed. Six process pieces are included in the framework which enables a campus culture of compassionate to be fuelled and sustained over time. These pieces include: (a) creating a vision for the future, (b) constructing a plan to achieve the vision, (c) securing funds to put the plan in place, (d) thinking critically and measuring actions against the vision, (e) being proactive to make change happen, and (f) reaching beyond compliance. The framework encourages university stakeholders to collectively reflect, dialogue, and collaborate in order to create broader systemic changes. These changes are necessary since constraints to campus engagement can threaten a student’s well-being and sense of self. This framework can serve as a starting point to initiate these conversations and inspire universities to use a participatory approach to encourage positive social change within the university context.