Inclusion on the College Campus

I have the pleasure of attending Stockton University to pursue my education in Business. While pursuing my degree, I have been able to observe the warm and diverse culture that Stockton University provides for all of its students. It was an honor to interview The University's President, Dr. Harvey Kesselman, and the Assistant Director of Counseling and Health Services, Bob Ross.

On a land preserve in the pine barrens of New Jersey, lays an incredible "home" to many millennials, known as Stockton University. This "home" is a place for many neuro-typical and special needs students to find meaningful career paths and to discover themselves. Everything at Stockton, from the students to all the way down to the class choices, is very diverse and unique. In the words of Dr. Kesselman, "Whatever you bring to the table, you will fit". Every time someone walks through the campus center door, they are bound to feel overjoyed by the welcoming, inclusive, and warm energy that emanates throughout the campus.

When you are at Stockton, everyone matters and the students and staff have the mindset of "How can you contribute?" to the community. All neuro- typical and special needs students form a synergy and work with each other to provide an inclusive environment for ALL students, no matter what the situation is. Stockton takes pride in being a University where everyone belongs, and it is no wonder why it is a popping place for people with special needs to attend college.

According to Bob Ross, who helps coordinate support services for students with disabilities, inclusion means far more than just making everyone feel included. On campus, inclusion fosters a sense of nonjudgmental security and a culture of kindness within and outside the campus community. It also gives many of the students with special needs opportunities to develop social relationships, independence and life satisfaction.

Statistics show that many students with special needs may not complete high school or college. Why might this be? Well, many of these students are missing an aspect of support. For example, a student can be succeeding academically, but may not have the right support from the school to handle stress, build meaningful social relationships, etc.

There was a collaborative study conducted by the Kessler Foundation and The National Organization on Disability, with a mission to create statistics regarding how 13 key life gaps are measured in people with special needs (Employment, Poverty, Financial Situation, Access to Healthcare, Access to Mental Health Services, Transportation, Socializing, Going to Restaurants, Attendance at Religious Services, Political Participation, Life Satisfaction, and Technology).

From the statistics, it was shown that only 34% of people with disabilities are very satisfied with their life, compared to 61% of neuro- typical individuals. More must be done to satisfy the lives of those with disabilities. A college education, statistically, has become possible for the disabled, but more can be done. Post-college life presents many more opportunities than those that do not attend.

Dr. Kesselman believes "To be a leader in a higher education institution, requires the creation of an environment where ALL students are set up for success." With this vision, Stockton educates the student in a holistic approach, or whole person, and not just an academic approach. Using the 8 dimensions of wellness, all neuro typical and special needs students are taught to balance life beyond the academic realm, and to grow in personal strengths and passions.

From the well- known Learning Access Program, to hosting campus events for disability awareness month, the cause of social inclusion for students with special needs is spotlighted and is cared about by the entire Stockton community.

The Learning Access Program is Stockton University's disability support services office, with the goal being to educate, advocate and facilitate equal access while maintaining a welcoming, inclusive and accessible campus community. With the guidance and support from this program, students are given the opportunity to maintain employment, while learning how learn to become independent and self-sufficient.

The program establishes annual goals to meet the needs and demands of the student population (available upon request) . The LAP works with faculty and staff to ensure equal access and to promote the concept of universal design. The Program's standards are established by the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education and the Association for Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD). With committees and boards, the university is constantly assessing and improving the program, such as keeping up with technology and community diversification.

The LAP and the inclusive setting really do set up special needs students for success. It is so special that Stockton provides this kind of support on more than one level to make the special needs students feel welcomed and comfortable with who they are and what they need.

College is a time that facilitates the most growth in an individual's life. Those who are fortunate to attend Stockton University know that it is one of the best colleges and is a welcome home to many. Stockton University gives us hope that we can all grow with one another in an inclusive and holistic way. Upon graduation, every student is prepared to take the next step in their life journey. It has been such a pleasure to see how everyone grows and takes what they have done and learned at Stockton into the real world and that the same attention to success is afforded to ALL students.

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