My name is Davis Finch and I have been involved with Square Peg since October 2011. I am 24-years-old and am on the higher end of the autism spectrum. I started out just taking riding lessons, but in the past six months have become a lot more involved in the organization. This is my first blog post on this website.
This past summer I had a disastrous experience with the admissions and disabled students departments at San Francisco State University. I had received a conditional acceptance letter as a transfer student in December 2012 and, after meeting the conditions as I understood them to be (confusion about the specific requirements caused me to fill out the application incorrectly), I was denied admission in late June, two months before I was supposed to start classes. At first I believed it was some sort of mistake and that everything would be cleared up quickly and rationally, but, alas, I was wrong. It started with some impersonal bureaucratic letters and emails that I found very disrespectful and ended with me storming off the campus after a
last-ditch meeting vowing never to have anything to do with the institution, ever again! What upset me greatly about the way I was treated was their lack of compassion, ignorance about autism, and attempts to pin all the blame on me while holding the deeply flawed system they work for in high regard. As a result of this, I have left academia and do not intend to return anytime soon.
As I thought this over, I realized that the core problems I had were not so much with SF State, but with the CSU system as a whole. After taking a semester off from education following high school, I started at College of Marin in January 2008. I spent the next five years (ten semesters) learning the system, navigating around roadblocks, and eventually earning my AA in political science in December 2012. Overall, it was a good experience. Some of the keys to my success were a level of autonomy that allowed me to take as many classes as I could handle (usually 2) and work out reasonable agreements with teachers when problems arose, a disabled students department that (usually) helped me when I needed them and had adequate influence in the school to get things done, an academic culture that did not shame me for being there for several years, a clear rubric explaining AA requirements, and an efficient electronic system for enrolling in classes.
I was hoping SF State, although much bigger, would be similar in those regards. Maybe it would have been once I got settled in, but I never got the chance because of two major flaws in the system that I found insurmountable. The first one, which was the reason my admission was rescinded, is SF State and all other CSU’s (I think the UC’s do it too, but I’m not sure) discard hard-earned units from community colleges that are not compatible with their seemingly arbitrary course requirements. For me, this meant that even though I should have had more than enough units to transfer, I was found to be half-a-unit short and thus denied admission. Even if I had been admitted, the lost units would have meant at least an
extra semester at the university, which would have ruined my goal of upgrading my degree to a BA in four years. The second major flaw in the system is the disabled students department doesn’t give you any serious help unless you are enrolled as a student, which is a major problem if admission is what you need help with. This meant that although I was allowed an appeal, I had no help from the disabled students office and had no recourse when the established processes used for resolving unit shortfalls were inappropriate for my situation. These two policies combined to make appealing the denial of admission a humiliating and ultimately pointless action and made me feel discriminated against, disrespected, and unwanted.
Experiences like the one I had with SFSU prove just how special and needed organizations like Square Peg are. The generally non-hierarchical, flexible, and compassionate atmosphere at the ranch is a refreshing exception from the condescending, bureaucratic, and often downright discriminatory conditions that are all too common in our society. In military and law enforcement, it is probably necessary, but why do social services, the legal system, academia, and the corporate world have to be so hostile to people with disabilities and people who are just different? That is something we as a society must change, and organizations like Square Peg are our best hope.