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What does humiliation look like?

Wednesday, 6th March

I am so ridiculously tired, and it utterly perplexes me that I am now writing yet a third article about my time here at RMIT university and I’ve barely made it through a week.

Once again, I found myself in a situation that could only be described as discrimination. Here I am putting on a brave face, trying to reiterate to myself that it is once again a new day and I won’t let the previous day deter me from giving things another crack. I did miss my train this afternoon and normally this would freak me out but this week has given me an extra layer of resilience. I catch the next train and although this time I have to navigate my way around a new route (changing over at a different station), I finally get to my destination… late, but okay.

It was creative clubs’ day on campus which if you’re not familiar, is when all the “creative club” set up stalls and booths to promote and recruit people to their clubs. I didn’t have a chance to go up to any of the other tables because I had to go straight to the journalism booth to help hand out, but I make a mental note to look the clubs up online. Its pouring down rain just as I’m arriving but I make it to the booth. People who are already there inform me that this afternoon the interest has kinda dropped and so we spend the next half hour making small talk (I use that term loosely because honestly my social confidence has taken a beating this week so its hard to find the words to say in these unfamiliar situations). I eventually find out that four of us are heading to the same class this afternoon so I’m grateful for the company I get and for the help to find the lecture.

I get to the building, I get to the level, I get to outside the lecture room, only for Sarah (the girl who is with me at the time) to tell me that I can’t get in. Sarah and I got advice from a passer-by to go to the level below and find the entrance to the room down there. I made my own way, confident that it shouldn’t be too hard to find. Instead I can’t see the number for the room anywhere. I drive up and down both hallways and I can tell by the presence of a lot of students in high visibility vests and hard hats that this certainly can’t be the area for any of my classes. I give up and return to the level above.

By now the lecture has already started and I’m panicking. Sarah opens the door for me and I discover she was in fact, right. The door is just the entrance to the top of the stairs. The lecture room is filled with students taking notes, the lecturer is already well into her class and there is nowhere for me to park my wheelchair. I can’t even get my whole wheelchair onto the landing because it’s just too small. So, I’m sitting there, barely comfortable in this tight space, I have half my chair outside the room so I’m actually holding the door open AND I’m making it very difficult for students to get in and out past me which is embarrassing. Sarah suggests that maybe if the lecturer saw me, she would advise me on what to do and she kindly told me to message her if I needed anything before returning to her seat (thanks Sarah).

However right now I’m upset. The lecturer does come up to give me a handout – she doesn’t look twice at where I’m sitting. I’m trying to regain my composure so I can barely get a word out. I’ve missed the start of the lecture and while holding back tears, I’m trying to follow what the lecturer is talking about. I’m at the back of the room and there is noise behind me with the open door – on top of the fact that I already have bad eyesight and bad hearing. Every so often someone is squeezing past me and I feel so embarrassed at being in the way, but what else was going to do? I attempt to make notes based on the little that I can hear but by the end, what I’ve got is of no use because it doesn’t fully make sense.

The good news is, I’m the first one out of there. I make my way straight to the next building I’m supposed to be at, all the while hoping it’s not so hard to find. I briefly consider going home as I’m standing in the pouring rain at the stoplights. I make it to the building and the level on my own this time but before I find the room, I have to take a time-out, so I lock myself in the bathroom and try to breathe a sigh of relief. Hoping to get rid of the anxiety that’s been sitting in the pit of my stomach all day… no, all week. I give my dad a call to find some comfort and as I recount what has happened, I start to cry.

This sounds so dramatic and ridiculous to admit. I almost feel stupid and like there’s something wrong with me. But this is the truth… it’s been a rough week.

I am not writing these articles to “call-out” RMIT. I’m not trying to shame staff or students. i chose this school for a reason. Sure, it needs some work, the world needs work, really. I’m sharing these stories in the hope that I can somehow get the ball rolling or at the very least figure out if I’m not alone.

If it makes you feel any better, after my mini cry sesh in the bathroom I picked myself up and found some comfort in the warmth of the building after being out in the rain. I was able to make it to my last lecture without any trouble and subsequently, my way home to write this.

Tomorrow’s my last day for the week before my much-needed long weekend. I don’t know how the incidents of today will play out; only tomorrow will tell. For now, I’m just venting and then I’m going to get into my cosy PJ’s with a cuppa tea and watch Riverdale.

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5 Comments

  • Reply Julie Pozenel

    Your stories are inspirational Claudia and we can all learn from them. we all face various issues in our life and seeing your resilience despite difficult circumstances really inspires me!

    April 10, 2019 at 9:28 am
  • Reply Dave Riley

    I hope things have improved for you during the following week, Claudia.As a keen reader of your stuff: please keep your sharp insights coming despite the social pain you negotiate embracing them.

    March 24, 2019 at 11:14 pm
  • Reply Sebastian Sibelle

    Stick in there Claudia! You’ve shown real strength and bravery through these tough situations. Keep reflecting and writing about your experiences – it’s important to get your voice out there and for you to have an outlet. Every post you write will make you a better journalist and hopefully help change people’s understandings of accessibility and equity for the better

    March 13, 2019 at 10:10 am
  • Reply Judy Redman

    At a very practical level, have you made contact with the Equitable Learning Services at RMIT? Part of their role is to help students with additional needs to be able to access their study in the most equitable way possible, which definitely includes being able to get into lecture theatres.

    March 11, 2019 at 2:37 pm
  • Reply Anna

    What I see here is strength ! You will look back on these experiences as resources as I honestly can see big things for you.

    March 10, 2019 at 7:23 am
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