Editorial: Greektown must welcome students with disabilities

Instead of ignoring the lack of accessibility for people with physical disabilities in Greektown, chapters need to start discussing how to best fix this issue.

Many fraternity and sorority houses at MU lack overall accessibility for people with physical disabilities, as reported in The Maneater’s latest Long Read. Some houses lack accessible entrances, bathrooms and bedrooms on the first floor and elevators. While some houses do have these accessible features, the majority of Greek houses lack at least one or more of these aspects.

The Maneater measured the accessibility of houses using five factors: an accessible front entrance, an accessible side entrance, a first-floor bathroom, a first-floor bedroom and an elevator. Of the 34 Greek houses we examined, only three (Beta Theta Pi, Pi Kappa Alpha and Sigma Sigma Sigma) had all of these features. Nine Greek houses reported that they do not have any accessible entrances to their houses. If you use a wheelchair and are interested in joining Acacia, Alpha Gamma Sigma, Delta Chi, Kappa Alpha Order, Kappa Sigma, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Theta Chi, Gamma Phi Beta or Alpha Phi, you literally won’t be able to get in the door.

Technically, fraternity and sorority houses aren’t required to have these accessibility features because, as a private club, they are exempted from the guidelines detailed in the Americans with Disabilities Act. So while the MU Student Center is legally required to be accessible to people of all abilities, the rules change once you cross Tiger Avenue. In Greektown, it’s up to individual, private chapters whether to make accessibility a priority.

Accessibility does not seem to be a priority for many chapters. This should be an issue on the minds of every Greek leader. When some students with disabilities encounter difficulty just entering a Greek house — whether they are interested in joining a chapter or attending an event — they can feel unwelcome and ostracized. We should all be striving for inclusivity.

But we know fixing these issues isn’t a simple task. Greek chapters are businesses, and making a house ADA-compliant is expensive, especially when you aren’t legally obligated to make renovations. Delta Upsilon’s new house is currently under construction and will be 100 percent ADA-compliant — and the ramps and elevator being installed cost upwards of $145,000. Renovating or rebuilding Greek chapters’ houses come at a heavy cost for these chapters, and, contrary to popular belief, not all chapters are swimming in money.

Even if students who belong to these chapters push for these updates, they have to go through a their house corporation boards. The board can deny their requests to renovate the house for any reason, including an interest in upholding the traditional structure of the house. But some house corporation boards (like Chi Omega’s) have seen past the nostalgia alumni have for their house and instead prioritized the needs of current chapters — and those needs include accessibility.

We realize it’s unrealistic to call on all Greek chapters to make major renovations right now — there are many factors to consider and obstacles in the way of swift changes. But we do need a continuous, comprehensive discussion about the lack of accessibility in Greektown and in chapter houses. And while changes are time-consuming and costly, chapters should start working toward them now.

The system in place for inaccessible chapters — temporarily renting an aluminum ramp whenever a student with a physical disability shows up for recruitment — is embarrassing. This short-term fix sends a message to those students that they, too, are temporary. To be truly inclusive and welcoming to all students, chapters need to proactively and permanently invest in things like ramps and first-floor bedrooms.

Greek chapters, the MU Office of Greek Life and the Missouri Students Association need to be having active discussions with one another about how best to fix this problem.

To start, students can report poor sidewalk conditions in Greektown to the City of Columbia. The sidewalks throughout Greektown can pose a threat to people with physical disabilities — navigating the broken portions of sidewalk in a wheelchair has resulted in accidents. While this is an issue for the city, students can pressure the city to make repairs.

We realize that it will take a lot to make Greektown completely accessible. We know it will take time and money. But we also know that a group of MU students is being shut out of one of MU’s largest and most prominent communities. And that door needs to be opened.

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