When MSU transitioned to online learning in the spring of 2020, the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD) sought to create an experience to virtually build a supportive community for students with psychiatric disabilities. Shelby Gombosi and Lindsay Hill, RCPD’s Ability Access Specialists, answered the call and created the Community Groups program, an opportunity for students to connect with other RCPD-registered students and stimulate conversations regarding the prevailing issues affecting their daily lives.
Inspired by Edith Moore Squires, a beloved lifetime Spartan and advocate for students with disabilities who aimed to create, embrace, and celebrate accessibility and adaptability, the RCPD Careers Collaborative distributed a survey to all registered students, inquiring how the RCPD could promote the advancement of student success and wellness. With results showing that students longed for a greater connection with other students like themselves, the department focused on replicating an on-campus experience through community support groups.
Interested in building student empowerment, the Community Groups program facilitates weekly student-led conversations about the issues affecting participants, such as navigating disabilities, online learning, and more. Talking to peers creates a safe space for students, who may be more comfortable discussing their experiences with people their own age, who are going through similar experiences. Having student facilitators from the MSU Council of Students with Disabilities, an organization for students with disabilities, and their supporters, focusing on awareness, advocacy, empowerment on MSU's campus, and Tower Guard, a sophomore student organization dedicated to serving RCPD, allows participants to feel comfortable opening up in ways that they might not otherwise.
Community Groups sessions encourage RCPD-registered students to take away a sense of community. The provided support, both now and in the future, will create a space to discuss challenging situations or any other topics students want to address. These groups, which will run through the end of the semester, foster cooperation and minimize social isolation.
According to Gombosi, the RCPD Community Groups are an opportunity for students to come together and form a community around issues that matter to them. And after the fall semester pilot, the RCPD plans to open this opportunity up to more students and continue to encourage social activities outside of weekly Community Groups meetings, to foster support in every capacity.
“It was very important to get these groups off the ground knowing that so many of our students were looking for a connection during this difficult time,” says Hill. “I never could have imagined the close and instant connection that these students made with one another, and I was honored to be a part of it.”
For students in need of support who are not yet connected with RCPD, click the “Get Started” link on the RCPD home page to begin the registration process. The RCPD has resources available for students including accommodations that might be helpful and programs and scholarships students may be eligible for in addition to the Community Groups.