The Average Student
I spent two years as the part-time ombudsofficer at a major university in British Columbia. It was there that I was introduced to a mythical creature known as The Average Student. The values and mores of university infrastructure are based on what the average student would reasonably do in any given situation. Needless to say, I did not meet many of these "average students" because the people who round their way to my office were already in some kind of difficulty, placing them outside of the realm of the ordinary.
I have also never been an average student myself. I am a thirty-nine year old woman who has been taking the scenic route towards a B.A. since I was twenty-two. My academic career is chaotic and pitted much like my life has been over this sixteen year period. I have faced mental health disabilities such as anxiety and depression, and physical health problems such as congestive heart failure. University has always been a source of great pleasure and massive stress. My transcript is the record of a person who has failed to give up her dream of obtaining a degree. But outwardly it looks like the record of someone with an inconsistent performance and a few failures. it also shows periods of time where I have withdrawn or disappeared.
Why do I do it? Why do anyone of us do it? Why do so many people with disabilities struggle through the hoops towards getting a university education a task that is difficult at best for the "average student"? It is 1996. Why are universities moving at such a slow pace towards making education accessible and attainable? And who is this average student anyway?
The "average student," in my opinion, is a white male (or female), 18 to 25 year old, straight, middle class, non-disabled, financially secure individual who has easy access to the hallowed halls of learning. This person completes all assignments on time (unless some disaster strikes), always shows up for classes and never makes "excuses" for himself.
Excuses are a whole other category. Universities often regard disabilities as excuses. It is feared that making allowances for people with disabilities will compromise the academic integrity of the institution. Either you can do the work, or you cannot. End of story. No excuses. The myth of the average student creates powerful obstacles for students with disabilities, not to mention the architectural barriers that are in place: staircases, crowded thoroughfares and jammed elevators. Educational institutions ought to be progressive think-tanks and major contributors to human evolution. Perhaps universities were never designed to be accessible. They were established for monks and nobleman with money, time and privilege on their bands. The modern day average student is the equivalent to the nobleman or monk. The rest of us must struggle to graduate.