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SGA hosts duck race, town hall for students with disabilities

Allison Shelton
A Julez Rhein, a senator for SGA, engages in one of the duck races at the Student Government Association event on Friday, Nov. 9. The event was to help raise awareness for disability advocacy.

Julez Rhein, a first-year illustration major, first joined Columbia’s Student Government Association because as a disabled student, she wanted to make the college a more inclusive place.

“Going to an art school where there’s a lot more disabled students, I feel I get to help create a space and help others with disabilities,” she said.

For her first town hall event as SGA Disability Student Advocacy Senator, Rhein was inspired by Chicago’s annual Ducky Derby, an event she often volunteers for. The Ducky Derby event in Chicago fundraises for the Special Olympics, with the fastest racing ducks earning prizes.

The town hall, held on Thursday, Nov 9. in the Student Center second floor Loft, featured an “artistic twist” on the Ducky Derby. Students who attended the event were provided with snacks, drinks, rubber ducks and art supplies. Rhein collaborated with Jeanne Doyle Kelly, director of Services for Students with Disabilities, to host the town hall.

While preparing for the race, they were able to talk about things like class registration, class cancellations and housing accommodations.

Some of the issues that came up included finding the best way to navigate the campus, having a classroom with accommodations and problems with disabled-accessible doors in front of the University Center.

The duck race was one of a series of town halls SGA is hosting for students. Some upcoming town halls include a “Let’s Chat” design student town hall, and a “Build-a-Board Game” sophomore student town hall.

The annual “Let’s Chat With Dr. Kim” town hall for all students on Nov. 16 was moved to Zoom after a discussion SGA had with campus security and administration.

At the disability town hall, students decorated and then chose their favorite duck to compete in the race. The student with the fastest duck received a prize that consisted of several treats.

Sophomore illustration major Gabi Largacha-Gomez went to the town hall with their friend Dirt Simmons, a sophomore illustration major.

Before the event, Simmons said they didn’t know anybody from Services for Students with Disabilities but are now connected.

Largacha-Gomez said they weren’t aware of how many things SSD and SGA could help with.

“It’s good to know that they’re here to help out with anything,” they said. “This makes me feel more comfortable if I ever need to reach out if I have any issues in my classes.”

Kelly said her goal for SSD has always been finding a place for students with disabilities at Columbia to feel safe, comfortable and collaborative.

“I think there’s space here, but people aren’t aware of it,” she said. “My goal is that students feel so they can participate and contribute equally, like everyone else.”

Rhein said the turnout of the event was better than she anticipated and was happy that students are passionate and interested in disability advocacy. She wants more events like these to be promoted more because “disability is something that should be celebrated, and not just shoved away under the rug,” she said.

“I joined SGA not to be the face of disability advocacy, but at least the microphone,” Rhein said. “I understand how it feels to be left out of a conversation that revolves around you.”

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About the Contributor
Allison Shelton
Allison Shelton, Reporter
ashelton@columbiachronicle.com   Allison Shelton is a sophomore journalism major, with a minor in advertising and fashion communications.  She primarily reports on Columbia's Student Government Association but has also written about sustainability, campus events and the college's unions. Shelton joined the Chronicle in August 2023.   Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri