Since its founding, Maryville College has invested in the mission of doing good on the largest possible scale. To this day, this goal is exemplified by the incredible students, alumni, faculty, and staff who make up the college community. 2019 is our bicentennial year, and we are taking this opportunity to highlight some of the most notable individuals and the work they do to make our college and the larger community a better place.
This month we are pleased to highlight an impressive student - Caroline Ballinger, class of 2018. Caroline goes above and beyond for our community, both through her work as a student and as an activist promoting improved accessibility on campus!
Caroline Ballinger, Class of 2018
Who is Caroline Ballinger?
Caroline is a Senior Psychology major at Maryville College who recently finished her Senior Thesis. She studied communication and satisfaction in the intimate relationships of people who have chronic pain and how their relationships may influence the way they cope. What’s next? Caroline is applying for graduate school at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and hopes to be a psychotherapist working with patients who experience chronic pain, illness and others in the disability community. When she is not working on her thesis or promoting ideas of accessibility, she enjoys gardening and raising chickens!
Caroline Ballinger was nominated by her friend and fellow student, Emily Fitzpatrick, who met her at transfer orientation in January 2016. As Emily witnessed Caroline’s experience since transferring to Maryville College, she said she has changed by just being around her. In her nomination interview, Emily spoke about Caroline’s capacity for kindness, and how her goal is to improve things for everyone. She also discussed how her friendship with Caroline has expanded her understanding of individuals who live with a disability,
"My experience just differs from hers. Now, I have changed my wording when speaking about people with disabilities. She sees herself as someone who needs to move around the world differently a wheelchair does not represent her disability; it is rather a tool that gives her freedom."
Caroline’s dedication and character were also recognized by Megan Pray, the Disability Services Specialist here at Maryville College. Megan applauds Caroline’s commitment to seeing improvements realized -
“Caroline has played a vital role in increasing awareness across campus of what accessibility is and is not. She recognizes the value that accessibility brings to everyone and not just her, personally.”
Caroline has a unique experience with disability on campus, too, because she was not using a wheelchair during her first semester at Maryville College and did not initially need constant mobility aids. However, due to the progress of her illness, over time she began using other mobility aids like the wheelchair she currently uses. This progression allowed her to have comparable experience and deepen her understanding of the variety of ways disability services and accessibility can improve our campus community. In her interview, she explained,
“Over time, I have had different needs concerning accessibility on campus, and it has been interesting to work on these with Disability Services. I think I’m in a good position, a really lucky position, to be able to identify with a broad perspective of people who have different needs.”
The breadth of her understanding and commitment to accessibility has driven her to advocate for improvements that benefit the entire campus community.
Caroline also spoke of the importance of universal design, which puts the needs of the people who utilize a space at the center of its design. This concept is especially important considering that our small campus serves not only our students, faculty, and staff and the broader Maryville community as well.
Caroline has worked to improve existing accessibility features, such as automatic doors, across campus. She tries to consistently report elevator outages or areas that lack critical accessibility features that a person of an able body may not notice, and she encourages her peers to do the same. Megan expanded on this, saying,
“Accessibility can be a frustrating topic, especially when it affects you directly. But, having these conversations is vital, even though they are sometimes difficult. I am really pleased with how the Physical Plant has partnered with our office and with Caroline in responding to requests, suggestions, and feedback.”
When asked about what sorts of concrete things that could be done in order to continue her work after she graduates, Caroline brought up the idea of having a streamlined method of reporting accessibility outages and a method of universal notification to the whole community when there is an outage.
The Disability Services Office does all they can to alert the community members registered through their office, but Caroline knows that individuals who would benefit from this notification are more numerous than the names on the list. She mentioned that disability is not always visible to the outside world. In addition to this, it is not always permanent enough to go through the process of Disability Services. Therefore, Caroline exhorts that we can all be better about considering accessibility in the everyday decisions that we make. For example, how do we decide where to hold meetings or events? Is the space easy to move around in? If the space is not on the ground floor, are the accessible elevators to accommodate members of our group who might need or want to use them? These are things that Caroline says everyone should think about.
Caroline encourages all students to be allies, saying,
“If someone wants to be an ally, the simplest thing he or she can do is listen to what people with disabilities say needs to be improved, and then help advocate for that change.”
She also mentioned that a great way for advocates to promote change is by creating a student organization that works proactively to address areas that need improvement and create a more in-depth understanding on the campus of these issues and productive ways to address them.
As her final contribution before she graduates, Caroline has conducted a campus-wide Climate Survey through the Psychology Club that has been distributed to the campus community. The survey is designed to raise awareness about disabilities and accessibility on campus, as well as provide us with real data representing our perception of accessibility features and accommodations.
The Maryville College community is truly fortunate to have had Caroline as part of the student body over the past few years. Thanks, Caroline, for going above and beyond your academic requirements, and “doing good on the largest possible scale.”