CLASS Office: Reducing Barriers

Kristy Moua, Features Editor


Below is an interview held between Kristy Moua and Kathleen McGilivray. Kathleen McGillivray, also known as Kathy, has been working for Augsburg University since June of 2014 as the Director of CLASS and Disability Resources. A fun fact about McGillivray is that she has a very cute Berlin tabby cat, named Nita.

KM: Why did you choose to take the position as Director of the
CLASS office?

KMG: The CLASS office has had a really great reputation for a long time. Augsburg has been providing support and accommodations for students with disabilities for a while. At least since the 80s, and really before a lot of other private schools in Minnesota. And so that was one of the reasons I liked the diversity in this at Augsburg. I just thought it would be a great opportunity to be able to work in this environment with a great team and well developed office. I have done Disability Resources work for about 25 years.

KM: What are some educational barriers you have seen students with disabilities face?

KMG: I think access to print is one. If someone has dyslexia, a vision impairment, or they have another kind of disability that affects reading. Then we figure out accommodations, like audiobooks to help them figure out those barriers. Sometimes for some students, the way their knowledge is measured can be a barrier of a testing environment, that is very time constrained. When there are really rigid attendance requirements, that can be a barrier for certain students who have chronic conditions or really significant mental health conditions. And attitudinal barriers are there too. Like, people having lower expectations of students. Sometimes students do not come in with the skills they need, not just for students with disabilities.

KM: How do you hope to help Augsburg students thrive with your skills and areas of specialty?

KMG: I think my experience as a person with a disability for one, that helps me empathize in some ways with students. I want students to understand that they have a right to accommodations and I want faculty to understand that too. It is not like we are going to do these poor students with disabilities a favor; we need to create environments that are accessible for and equal opportunities for all students. I think my skills are to look at an environment, see where those barriers are, and then help students to help us reduce those barriers. I think some of my skills are helping students to figure out what their identity is, as a person with a disability or even if they want to claim that identity or not, because not everybody sees disability in the same way. And not everybody even wants to use the word disability. I think that whole piece of helping people figure out okay, ‘What is this? What is my identity? How much do I want it to play a role?’ It is not just about me, it is about our whole department. Using my ability to encourage other people and pull out their gifts, makes the rest of our team serve students and faculty more effectively.

KM: What advice can you give to students hoping to persist and pursue their post secondary education?

KMG: My advice would be to find people who believe in you and will be committed to you and ask them to be mentors. Learn how to ask for what you need; the answer is always no to the questions that you do not ask. Let failure be your friend, you can learn from failure. Do not let it devastate you. And then I think being persistent, you have to be stubborn if you want to succeed. These things are not just for students with disabilities, they are for anyone.

This article was originally published in the October 11, 2019 issue.