Disabled Student Union petitions AU administrators for frequent, mandatory COVID-19 testing
Petition receives over 1,600 signatures and backing of several student organizations
American University’s Disabled Student Union is petitioning University administrators to require frequent coronavirus testing of all faculty and students in the name of equal and safe education for community members with disabilities.
The petition says that the University’s lack of enforcement of safety measures limits students’ access to the right to a safe and equal education guaranteed to them in Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. By testing community members at least twice a month, the University could help to slow the spread of the virus and protect vulnerable students in the process, according to DSU.
According to DSU President Katherine Greenstein, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs, DSU met in December and expressed a number of frustrations with the University’s existing testing policies.
“Our members were feeling very frustrated, because we’ve spent two years watching our community kind of be seen as disposable,” Greenstein said.
After expressing these frustrations, a member suggested students take matters into their own hands and write a petition.
“I drafted it in a night … I had to write it, I got a bunch of people to look over it, I posted it,” Greenstein said. “And then it’s been kind of a whirlwind since because it picked up quite a bit of attention.”
The petition now has over 1,600 signatures and has garnered support from a number of campus organizations, including the AU College Democrats and the SPA Undergraduate Council. Sixteen members of the American University Student Government Undergraduate Senate later signed their own letter of support for the petition.
“Not only does mandated testing provide additional protection for the health of the student body and the DC community, but it follows suit with universities such as George Washington University, Cornell University and others who have implemented similar measures to increase campus safety,” SG Senate representatives wrote in their letter.
The Disability+ Faculty and Staff Affinity Group, co-founded in part by Tanja Aho and Anna Cook, also expressed its support for the petition, helping to publicize it and garner support.
“We believe that the Disabled Student Union is absolutely correct in asking AU to step up and do better and provide more safety and protection for its students through regular testing. To us, the safety of students and, of course, the faculty and staff as well should always come first before any other considerations,” Aho said. “And if we want to resume in person classes and be back in community, we need to do so in a safe way that protects all of our community members.”
In a recent question and answer session with SG President Chyna Brodie, Brodie said that the University is unable to mandate frequent testing due to limitations posed by its partnership with external testing party ShieldT3 and a lack of an in-house lab at the University to process testing results.
“This petition … does not represent viable change here at American University because it fails to acknowledge the capacity of our school to conduct primary COVID-19 testing compared to other university systems,” Brodie said in the Q&A.
In an email to The Eagle, Elizabeth Deal, University spokesperson, wrote that the administration is “requiring testing for all AU community members … before and once returning to campus/affiliated AU buildings.”
“We continue to employ a comprehensive approach using all available tools, while following the data to mitigate risk. We will also continue to review and adapt our policies and protocols as necessary to ensure the ongoing safety of our community,” Deal wrote. “We have offered testing since the start of the academic year and the data shows our community is utilizing testing, particularly during higher risk periods, such as travel and during surges.”
Cook said in an interview with The Eagle that she feels privileged to be working remotely and knows many faculty and staff members who still feel unsafe.
“It’s not just something on this student's mind, it was also something on the mind of faculty and staff as well, especially when we were talking about meeting students face to face in small offices,” Cook said.
Greenstein emphasized the positive impact that mandatory testing would have on DSU members and on the University as a whole.
“Our organization was anxious, our members were anxious, we were struggling, because it is hard to handle being scared for your life and trying to learn at a collegiate level at the same time,” Greenstein said.
For Greenstein, the decision to start the petition was a sign that they were no longer willing to wait for the University to take action.
“The University should be including marginalized communities in discussion of policy and disabled people especially should be especially privy to conversations surrounding public health,” Greenstein said. “This is what affects us. That is the whole point. And the fact that we weren’t included in that discussion, the fact that our voices haven't been heard in that discussion is why the petition became necessary in the first place because they weren't listening to us.”