Transfer student Hannah Pike was trying to leave the Johnson Center Monday night when she hit an obstacle that for any other student would be a breeze – four stair steps.
Pike has cerebral palsy. Though she can walk a few steps, she uses a scooter to navigate campus. She was trapped at the bottom of the atrium stairs — the door to the handicap exit was locked. The only way out was up four steps on the Maddox side of the building.
She was stuck.
“Someone called campus security for me. They came, but they repeatedly told me that I was trying to enter the building and not exit it,” Pike said. “They told me that I should have just climbed the stairs and that someone should just hand me my scooter.”
Pike said after a few minutes of back and forth with the officer she was finally able to leave through the handicap door.
While Chief of Campus Security Pat Cunningham did not confirm that one of his officers told Pike to take the stairs, he said in an email statement to the Vision that “Hannah’s concerns have been discussed with all security personnel who were involved, and we regret any misunderstanding that occurred and have taken steps to prevent it occurring again.”
He said that he called Pike and apologized for the incident. He also said: “I would also ask that you keep in mind that this is a brand new, very large building that opened less than two weeks ago—everyone on campus (students, faculty, staff, and administrators) are fine tuning the details of that facility and adjusting to how it can and should function. Despite our best efforts to plan well, errors and missteps can occur.”
Pike sees this “error” as a broader indictment for Belmont’s larger issues with handicap accessibility.
“It’s a challenge even to get to the accessible parts of campus. It’s like they’ve done the bare minimum to get by,” Pike said.
The sophomore journalism major said she is repeatedly late to class because the wait for the elevator is so long, or because elevators are just not working. Pike doesn’t have the option of taking the stairs.
“It’s survival of the fittest to get to class, and I’m not exactly the fittest,” Pike said.
Pike faces issues in other buildings including the WAC, Beaman Student Life Center and even her own dorm – Horrell.
In Horrell alone, Pike must take two elevators to get to her room if she does not go through the parking garage. That route also requires her to open three heavy doors.
The security office is working with Disability Services and Facilities to make Belmont as accessible as possible for students like Pike, Cunningham said.
As the office considers changes, Pike still deals with the daily issues of being a student with a disability on campus.
“I’m used to having to adapt to things in my life,” Pike said. “I just don’t feel like I even have control over anything here.”