First of all, I want to thank my fellow Trees for making the my first four weeks at Stanford the best of my life.
As an international frosh from the United Kingdom, I have encountered so many new and exciting challenges already (a personal and highly clichéd favourite of mine being that of ordering “chips” when what I really want is fries), but my initial Stanford experience has had an extra touch of adventure due to the fact that I have a severe physical disability and thus rely on physical support with all aspects of daily life.
Aside from the obvious fact that I get about on four wheels, having a neuromuscular condition such as Spinal Muscular Atrophy has had a profound effect on my life so far, impacting not just how I am perceived by others, but also how I see the world around me, and this will no doubt continue to shape me as I take on new challenges and explore new opportunities. Combining this with the added excitement of being an international student, you can probably guess that the past month for me has been nothing short of extraordinary.
The process of moving to Stanford for any incoming Tree is an enormously challenging task, both physically and emotionally, and for me it was no exception. The only differences are that, in addition to my pink, fluffy throw blankets and heart-warming family photographs to place on my new walls, I brought with me across the Atlantic a whole host of medical equipment to maintain my respiratory health, such as my nebuliser, cough assistor and overnight ventilator, since my muscles on the inside that enable me to breathe are just as weak as those on the outside. Instead of the anticipation of meeting my roommate, I was preparing for the daunting task of meeting a whole new team of personal care assistants who would be supporting me with the more personal aspects of life at Stanford.
I’ll be honest: Like most incoming frosh, I was terrified. Having struggled socially during high school mostly as a result of physical barriers, I was so painfully worried that my high hopes of flourishing in college would be crushed before my time here had even begun. Yet, this is where I thank you. As soon as I set wheel on campus, you as my fellow Trees showed me that I had nothing to fear.
From my first moments on the Farm, my physical disability has been no barrier to developing relationships, and the eagerness of my peers to support me has reassured me that I have without doubt come to the right place. For a long time, I have lacked confidence to ask for help in fear of disturbing those around me, especially for more unusual requests such as that of lifting my head when I go over an unexpected and literal bump in the road as I don’t have the strength to do this myself, but I know from their approachable faces and overall caring natures that whoever I ask will be more than happy to assist.
I also thank you for understanding my situation, despite us only having met so recently. You understand that even though I can’t raise my voice over the noise in more lively social settings, and my interactions are pretty much limited to eager nods, I still love to be included and really am having the time of my life. In class, you quickly realised that I’m not able to retrieve my laptop from my backpack myself and so instinctively offer support without me having to ask. You ask inquisitive, thoughtful and sensitive questions about my condition and trust that I am happy to talk about any aspect that interests you. Even in the dining hall, the most terrifying place on campus for me due to the question of how exactly to collect and prepare my food when I have the muscle strength of a newborn baby, you don’t hesitate to help me clear away my plate and even move to an area more accessible for me to reach so that I can join you.
I can in no way speak on behalf of other Stanford students with disabilities and their experiences, but what I do hope to do is give an insight into how grateful I am for the nurturing, supportive and loving welcome I have received from my Stanford family. Each day I face new challenges, none so great as that of asking for the “lift” when I’m looking for the elevator, and each day I come across new hurdles that might take a little more figuring out, but just like my fellow frosh, I am learning and I am loving every second.
Over the coming weeks, the aim of my column will be to shine a spotlight onto the topic of diversity at Stanford in all its forms, and, using my own experiences as a guide, I look forward to delving further into the topic of inclusion and better understanding why, in my opinion, these two key concepts must coexist in order for a community to truly thrive.
The next four years hold many uncertain prospects and not one of us can predict what comes next. However, if my future at Stanford is anything like my first month, I can’t wait to keep rolling forwards and see what’s around the corner.
Contact Tilly Griffiths at tillykg ‘at’ stanford.edu.